Feb 15

CFOs LOL?

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?

Dec 07

A leader showing playfulness? What IS this world coming to?

20111021135206-1It seems the most famous leaders are those who also possess the loudest voices, inspire the most fear and take themselves the most seriously. I'd include Yahoo's Carol 'F-bomb' Bartz, the late Steve Jobs and GE's legendary 'Neutron' Jack Welch in any list of notoriously nasty nabobs of negativity.

So, imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two, videos of Northeastern University's president Joseph Aoun, allowing himself to be playful, funny and, dare I say it, self-deprecating.

The videos were the brainchild of my alma mater's crack public relations team but, as Renata Nyul, director of communications at Northeastern, tells it, Joseph was the guy who took the original concept and incorporated improvisational steps that would make Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell or Amy Poehler proud.

Created to promote the university's ‘Profiles in Innovation Presidential Speaker Series’, the first video featured Joseph literally dancing with iRobot's legendary Roomba vacuum cleaner. Clearly, the man is no Fred Astaire. But, talk about an innovative way in which to hype iRobot CEO’s Colin Angle’s upcoming address!

Not content with cutting the rug with a robot, Joseph went on to record a second video that was even more obtuse. Its intent was to promote an upcoming presentation by Janet Echelman, a world-renowned ‘airspace sculptor’ who uses humongous nets to accentuate urban buildings, parks and public spaces (kind of a latter-day Christo, if you will).

Ms. Nyul says both videos have been spread far and wide on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by the school's students, faculty and administrators. She says they've been genuine to Northeastern's commitment to innovation while also showing a human side to the leader of a top academic institution. So human in fact that undergrads are now routinely approaching Joseph to appear in their videos. Could you imagine trying that with your college president (or any Fortune 500 CEO, for that matter)?

But, Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Video Series has just begun. He has a third one scheduled for March with Dr. David Ferrucci, the principal investigator and lead creator of IBM's Watson.

I've checked with Joseph, and the school's PR team. They're cool with crowdsourcing the idea for the next video. So, here's your chance to suggest anything (and, I do mean anything) you think Joseph, president of Northeastern University, should do on video to promote the Ferrucci/Watson speech.

Personally, I think he should just riff on Watson's legendary Jeopardy TV show appearance. This time, though, I'd have the computer take on N.U.s three brightest students in a winner-take-all lightning round. As for Joseph? Why he'd play Alex Trebek, and come across as slightly patronizing, just a little bit smarter and a tad more sophisticated than Watson or the students. On the other hand, that wouldn't be Joseph's style, so scrap my idea.

What would you suggest instead?

I'll provide a slightly worn Peppercom baseball cap for the best idea (and I'm pretty sure Northeastern would be willing to toss in a clean, unused T-shirt). So, let the brainstorming begin.

Nov 15

A funny thing happened on the way to the commercial

A recent Stuart Elliott column in The New York Times reported on a trend I’ve been aware of for some time: advertising agencies get the strategic advantage comedy can provide to a marketing campaign. For some reason, though, my humorless peers in public relations don’t.

Major advertisers such as Capital One, Cover Girl and Kellogg’s have retained the services of famous comedians such as Jimmy Kimmel, Jerry Stiller and Ellen DeGeneres to sell their wares.
And, National Public Radio has leveraged the white hot Alec Baldwin to launch a series of hilarious, counter-intuitive radio spots urging listeners not to make the financial contributions critical to NPR’s very survival. Click below to listen:  (Alec Baldwin Wants to Destroy Public Radio . . .).

Charles Torrey, vice president, marketing, for Minute Maid Pure Squeezed Orange Juice, explains why he’s opted for comedy in his commercials: “Humor is a way to differentiate our brand in a stodgy category,” he says, adding that it also humanizes the brand and makes it seem more relevant. Marc Mentry, senior vice president, advertising & creative at Capital One Financial Services, agrees, and added: “We’re very serious about your money, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.” (Hey, that’s been Peppercom’s mantra for 16 years. Do I smell an intellectual property lawsuit in the making?).

Elliot opines that comedy is hot right now because people need to laugh when times are bad. He cites the likes of Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Fred Allen and Jack Benny as three, top Depression-era comedians who did the exact same thing for brands way back when.
I don’t agree with Elliot. I think comedy is a universal and creates a distinct, strategic advantage in good times and bad.

Advertising people are using comedy solely because their market research tells them it will resonate with the 99%ers and others in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And they’re right. But most advertisers will also abandon comedy when happy days are here again. That is, except for the savvy ones who know that when people laugh, they fall in love with a product or service.
Comedy is incredibly effective in external and internal communications. It’s also a critical building block for creating better presentation skills as well as enhancing employee morale.
It’s nice to see the advertising guys finally getting comedy, if only as a short-term remedy during a recession.

As for my peers in public relations? Keep focusing on your dour, statistical-laden, off-the-shelf communications plans while we’re busy figuring out smart and subtle ways in which to inject ours with self-deprecating humor. Oh, and by the way, we also offer stand-up comedy experiences for Fortune 500 clients that are just now starting to take off. Talk about a non-traditional way in which to engage with a client that’s already listed Weber or Edelman as their AOR. Give it another year or so and we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

 

Oct 20

Humor is a strategic business weapon

I was shocked, but not surprised, to read a recent CommPRO guest blog authored by Robert Geline of 144 Media entitled, 'When, if ever, is the right time to use humor in a presentation?'

Slide1The author said he thinks it's “…O.K. to go for a laugh, but the joke or story you're telling must have a direct connection to the major point you are making. Even if the material is relevant to the content of your talk, you are still taking a potentially unacceptable risk.” To which I replay, 'Balderdash!'

In fact, Geline's antiquated, stultifying POV is precisely WHY so many business presentations are as dull as dishwater.

To support his 'funny as a crutch' viewpoint, Geline cited the case study of a cardiologist who addressed a group of peers and used a highly inappropriate joke that bombed and undermined his credibility. Fair enough. It is absolutely critical to understand one's audience before injecting humor but, when properly applied, it's a game changer.

Here's a case in point: I just shared an Inc. Magazine panel with two other successful entrepreneurs. We were speaking in front of 75 or so other entrepreneurs and asked to address the subject: Creating a great workplace culture.

Not surprisingly, the other panelists cited the usual perks such as spot bonuses, extra days off and holiday parties. I spoke about similar topics, but also admitted I'd shamelessly stolen a great idea from Google called Dream Day. Not only did the audience appreciate my honesty and laugh at what Geline may call a joke, but they began listening much more intently to what I had to share.

Later on, one panelist boasted that he plied his troops with liquor each and every week. That, he said, sure seemed to improve their morale.

Because I embrace humor and use it as a strategic business weapon, I immediately escalated the conversation. I interjected, “You think that's cutting-edge? We've converted our kitchen to a crystal meth lab. You wouldn't believe the increased productivity.” After a second or two, the audience roared its approval.

So, Mr. Geline, guess which of the three panelists was besieged by audience members afterwards? The question’s rhetorical of course, but my use of humor made me seem more genuine and approachable to audience members. And, that’s a huge advantage in business.

I'm glad there are so many marketing and PR executives like Robert Geline who take themselves and their work far too seriously. It makes it that much easier for cool, casual and collegial firms such as mine to build rapport (and win business).

Geline is right about one thing, though. It is fundamental to first understand the audience and, second, to 'read' their non-verbals the way a comedian or actor trained in improvisation would. I'd never use the crystal meth line in a meeting of, say, CFOs, CMOs or even cardiologists. But, it was spot-on for the high-flying, take no prisoners mentality of the average entrepreneur. And, how did I know that, Mr. Geline? Because I understood my audience.

So, have you heard the joke about the marketer who took himself too seriously? He cried all the way to the bank.