Nov 10

Johnnie decides the budget

Queen_victoria_we_are_not_amused_poster-psss228460311490154127trma_400Remember Jimmie, the classic Seinfeld character who always referred to himself in the third person? Well, guess what? Jimmie rides again. Except, this time he's a motivational speaker named Johnnie and his RFP is absolutely, if unintentionally, hilarious.

After a brief overview from Johnnie describing who Johnnie is and why Johnnie deserves his own television show, the reader is positively bombarded with an avalanche of over-the-top testimonials, including:

– "Johnnie changed my life!"
– "Listening to Johnnie was one of the smartest moves in my life!"
– "Johnnie is the best!" The best, Jerry! (O.K. Repman took a little poetic license with that last line)

The funniest part of Johnnie's homage to Johnnie, though, is the budget section. Check this out:

The public relations budget for fiscal year 2012 will be structured at the discretion of Johnnie upon agency selection. The budget, while constrained by the laws of corporate economics, could quickly expand based on the rate of return on investment (ROI) and company growth. Johnnie is looking for guidance in setting an initial budget range based on the core activities required to execute the overall strategy laid out in the proposal. The successful bid will include a multitude of options that will allow Johnnie to select compensation that best fits Johnnie's partnership with the PR firm.

That's just beautiful! I can imagine Johnnie and his team reviewing the proposals as they come in:

– Johnnie thinks this one is weak.
– Johnnie thought Edelman would do a better job on their proposal. Johnnie's disappointed with Richard.
– Johnnie wonders if maybe Johnnie doesn't need a PR firm after all? Maybe Johnnie just pays a call on the television network executives himself? Nobody motivates people better than Johnnie!

A final thought on people who refer to themselves in the third person. I first became aware of this nauseating trait when Reggie Jackson reigned supreme with The New York Yankees (and humbly called himself “the straw that stirred the drink”). After a game, reporters would ask Jackson about his latest home run or confrontation with team manager, Billy Martin. Number 44 would always respond by saying, “Reggie knew he was going deep on that pitcher,” or “Reggie has no respect whatsoever for Billy.”

Repman never had any respect for Reggie Jackson. Likewise for Johnnie. In fact, Johnnie won't be receiving a response from Repman to his RFP. Repman doesn't like people who refer to themselves in the third person. Repman's angry at Johnnie!

Oct 05

How NOT to make it in the Big Apple

Your name is Naomi Nitwit. You've held a variety of design and production jobs over the past two decades but, for personal reasons, moved away from the Big Apple a few years ago.

Now, though, you're refueled, recharged and ready to re-engage. And, gosh darn it, you're going to write the best, show stopper of a cover letter the New York advertising and design field has ever seen. Why? Because, you want to get back to the hot lights and late nights of the City, that's why.

But, there's only one problem, Naomi. You forgot to re-read the letter and resume before hitting the send button. As a result, each and every track change is visible. Just take a gander:
Slide1Ouch! In the first graph she writes "…this job seems perfect." And what exactly would that job be, Naomi?  BTW, I love the letter's penultimate line. It reads, “Need a sentence here saying you are interested in getting back in the industry in NYC, I think.” Safe to assume that came from a job coach?

Your resume also contains track changes and reveals such interesting items as date changes (so, did you leave the real estate gig in ‘07 or '08?).

I also found myself bemused by the word change from 'blast' to 'marketing' and the accompanying note that reads: “blast is a very negative concept”. I agree.

Naomi, I know you're trying your best. But, it's a cold, cruel world and you really need to take ownership of what I like to call 'The brand of you'.

You'll never make it back to the Apple with a cover note and resume that contain track changes. Maybe you should change your strategy and, instead, team up with the football playing college senior who sent me an e-mail blast? No, wait a minute. Blast is a negative concept!

And, a tip o' the mortar board to Jason Dodd for this suggestion.

Sep 30

Pope Victim XVI

Slide1bbbbPope Benedict XVI finally admitted that the Roman Catholic Church has a “questionable” reputation.

A questionable reputation, eh? Well, if that's the descriptor the pontiff thinks best applies to his misguided organization, then I'd say it works equally well for everyone and everything from Jack the Ripper and Enron to Bernie Madoff and The New York Mets.

Rather than stepping up, admitting fault, announcing widespread systemic changes and asking for forgiveness though, the pope instead blamed everyone else for the institution's tarnished image. In fact, he said the church's questionable reputation is a direct result of what he called 'uncommitted Christians'. Does that mean he's pointing the finger at Baptists, Protestants, Methodists and every other Christian sect as well as Catholics? Well, why the heck not? Misery loves company.

The Pope's bought into what I'd call the victim defense strategy. To wit:

– If a woman burns her hand as a result of spilling hot coffee on herself, it's not her fault, it's the restaurant's for not warning her that yes, indeed, coffee can be served hot and, if spilled on an exposed body part, it can cause pain. As a result, she's entitled to collect millions of dollars in damages.

– It's society's fault if a person chooses to pursue a life of crime, drugs and debauchery. Why? Because he wasn't given the same advantages his peers in more upscale neighborhoods. So don't blame him for last night's drive-by shooting. He should be given a suspended sentence at most.

– And, of course, it's not the Democrats fault that Obama hasn't really accomplished anything in three-plus years. And, it's not Sarah Palin's fault she completely rewrote the history of Paul Revere's ride (that was just 'gotcha' journalism at work).

We live in a world in which we buy into the notion that it's no one's fault for anything that goes wrong. We're all victims. And, it's always someone else's fault.

As a recovering Catholic and erstwhile altar boy, I'm ashamed of the way in which the Church has embraced victimization as its modus operandi. As the attached article notes, the Church blames 'societal changes during the 1960s and '70s' as the reason why so many priests went off the rails and gorged themselves on a bacchanalian feast of pedophilia. It wasn't the Church's fault. It wasn't the misguided concept of celibacy that attracted misfits and put them in direct, unsupervised contact with young boys. And, it wasn't the Church that shuffled these predators around from one parish to another and covered up their horrific deeds. It's really never been the Church's fault. It's always been someone else's.

And, so playing the victim card remains the Vatican's sole strategy. I guess it works with true believers. But, we uncommitted Christians don't buy it for a minute. The Church, and the Church alone, is responsible for the path of destruction its priests have sown.

I, for one, suggest a name change for the pontiff. He should call himself Pope Victim XVI. If he did, it would be the first truly honest and transparent thing he, and his Church, has done to date.

Sep 29

How NOT to secure a summer internship

Stupid_meter There are many smart and strategic ways to stand out from the competition, demonstrate knowledge of a prospective employer's business, impress the reader with one's command of the English language and secure a summer internship.

And, then there is this steaming pile that found its way to my in-box on Wednesday:

“Hey my name is Clueless McWhocares and I am from Long Island, NY. I'm going to be a senior at Pineapple State University in Pineapple Kansas where I also play football and major In Political Science and minor in communications. I'm desperately trying to get a jump on other students who are attempting to get internships for the summer, So that is why I am contacting you guys now. I am really interested in Public Relations and would like to know if you have any internships for the summer of 2012? “

College and university students as well as recent grads should study this e-mail as a worst case example.

Let me share with you just a few of its fundamental flaws:

– It begins with “Hey”. As my mom loved to say, “Hay is for horses”. If I don't know you and you're connecting with me for the first time, try a salutation along the lines of Dear Steve or Dear Mr. Cody.

– I counted at least four grammatical mistakes in the first two sentences. That's akin to a death sentence for any job seeker. Show me you don't care enough to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar in a cover note to me and I guarantee I won't let you within a football field's length of my clients.

– “That's why I'm contacting you guys now.” You guys? You guys may work in the huddle of this guy's college football team, but it's a critical fumble in a cover note. Again, lose the tone of familiarity and text abbreviations you use with your buds. I don't think our contacts at Fortune 500 corporations would appreciate their Peppercom account manager addressing them as “you guys” in monthly reports that they, in turn, forward to senior management.

– “That's why I'm interested in Public Relations.” What's why you're interested in public relations? The student hasn't told me anything about his experience, relevant internships or why he's gravitating towards public relations as opposed to, say, bricklaying.

– Last, but not least, there's no closing to the letter. No yours sincerely, Best wishes or even Regards. Nada. Just white space. That makes me feel special. Very special indeed. 

The final nail in this student's coffin is the impression that his note was one of hundreds blasted to PR firms across the country. I don't like spam from vendors, stockbrokers or measurement firms. And, I really don't like them from students.

So, study this missive from hell and learn from it. Tailor your cover notes, use formal business language that is grammatically correct and last, but not least, show me you've taken the time to study my organization. Otherwise, you WILL end up as a bricklayer, Wal-Mart greeter, McDonald's burger flipper or some other dead-end job. One thing you will NOT get is a summer internship at a top PR firm or corporation.

Sep 28

Why didn’t I think of that?

Personal-Powxxer-500x496 I thought I'd heard of every conceivable new business strategy.

I've read every one of Robb High's endlessly repetitive 'agency mistake' e-mails. I've listened to Brent Hodgins and his diabolically clever Mirren business development workshops. And, I've even learned a few tips of the trade from such notable strategy consultants as Richard Harte, Ph.D., and Darryl 'Big D' Salerno.

But, my new business thinking was just rocked by a voice mail from a commercial real estate agent. Yes, you heard me right, a commercial real estate agent.

The call came from a guy I'll call Tim. As is usually the case with unsolicited cold calls, Tim made his message sound urgent. And, he also used a soft, personal tone and an air of familiarity that made it seem as if we'd known each other since those halcyon days at St. Francis Grammar School.

Tim's message not only left my lower jaw hanging on the floor. It made me shake my head and think, 'Why didn't I think of that?'

It went something like this:

“Hey Steve. How have you been? It's Tim. Tim Tenacious with Fabulous Realtors. You know. The big commercial real estate brokers here in midtown. Anyway, listen, I'm a big fan and I know there are so many ways you can help Fabulous PR ourselves. So, here's what I need from you ASAP. Can you call me back and give me talking points I can use with my CEO to convince him to hire you as our PR firm? In the meantime, we can help you find some space that will perfectly meet your needs and we'll have a great quid pro quo going. So, ball's in your court, big guy. Give me some bullets I can work with. Oh, and I'll set a meeting through your assistant and we'll start finding you the kind of office space you deserve. Can't wait to catch up.”

Tim's twisted logic was both appalling and laugh out loud funny. I immediately shared it with my management team, suggesting we toss out all of our other business development strategies and, instead, borrow a page from The Book of Tim.

Could you imagine me calling, say, Jon Iwata of IBM (a dream client I'd love to work with, BTW) and leave him a Tim-type voice mail?

“Jon? Way, way too long buddy. Way too long. Listen. Do me a favor. Call or e-mail me some talking points ASAP about your new top-of-the-line laptop computers, OK? I want to put your sales messages on Deivis Baez's desk. He's our IT manager and he really should be working with you guys to upgrade everything. Across-the-board. Right now. You get me? In the meantime, though, put Peppercom on a monthly retainer so we can return the favor and make this a real quid pro quo. You'll get a big order for new software  and we'll help you PR IBM. Can't wait to hear back, Jon. Talk to me baby. I want to help you help yourself.”

I've heard of reverse psychology before, but Tim's new business strategy is a stupefying show stopper.

In fact, if I were Tim, I'd stop trying to sell commercial real estate and, instead, channel my genius towards strategy consulting. Trust me, Robb High, Brent Hodgins, Darryl Salerno and all the rest won't know what hit them. In fact, they'll probably end up hiring Tim to provide strategy consulting for their strategy consulting.

I'd go on, but I owe Tim some bullet points for his CEO.

Sep 08

The Babe Ruth of the expletive deleted

In our 16 years of business, we've represented a few particularly, foul-mouth executives.   

I remember a young, dotcom PR director, for example, whose salty language would put any longshoreman to shame (note: PR Week actually named her one of the industry's bright, young stars way back when). Not surprisingly, I've haven't heard or read of her since. My guess is she's plying her trade as a stevedore these days.Slideaaaaaaaa1

Another foul-mouthed leader was a guy named Joe, who was the short-lived CEO of VerticalNet, Newell Rubbermaid and about 30 other companies. He was incapable of uttering a sentence that didn't begin or end with the F bomb.

But, the true Babe Ruth of the expletive deleted was Carol Bartz, Yahoo's just fired CEO.

Bartz not only cursed a blue streak, but also used bullying tactics and fear to try and turn around her also-ran company (note: in the interests of transparency, I must acknowledge we had one of the stormiest, most abusive client/agency relationships with Y! in Peppercom history).

Our team had ringside seats for the inauguration of Ms. Bartz three years ago. We had just won Yahoo's business and were in the midst of a multi-day brand immersion (which consisted of little more than listening to various sales and marketing teams explain why they were losing market share to Google and Microsoft).

We were assured all that was about to change with the advent of Ms. Bartz, a noted turnaround artist who'd worked wonders at Autodesk.

And, so we eagerly shuffled into a massive, suitably New Age-looking employee cafeteria cum auditorium to hear the new CEO's vision for a bright future.

After receiving a standing ovation from the thousands in attendance (and the thousands more viewing via video conference from around the world), Carol began her speech. After hearing all the Bartz hype, we were expecting something along the lines of “…a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” or “We have nothing to fear but fear itself," or even  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Instead, Bartz launched into an expletive-laced discourse that began with the company's ongoing problems with press leaks. “The first person I catch leaking confidential information to the media,” she yelled, jabbing her finger at the astonished throng, “I will personally drop kick his f*cking ass to Mars!”

One could hear the proverbial pin drop as she followed that threat with even scarier ones. Finally, mercifully, she ended her speech. Then the nascent CEO opened the floor for a question-and-answer session. I'll never forget the first query. It went something like this:

Employee (smiling): “Carol, we're so glad you're here and ready to lead us back to greatness. That said, you mentioned leaks to the press. Many of us in engineering have our own personal media contacts. I assume it's OK to continue speaking to them?”

Bartz (frowning and scowling): “What, are you f*ucking brain dead, or something? Did you not JUST hear me say I'll kick your f*ucking ass to Mars if you talk to the press? How stupid can one person be? Any other stupid questions?”

And, so on and so forth.

Afterwards, I remember walking back across campus with one of the in-house corporate PR types. He asked us, “So, guys, what did you think of Carol?” I felt like I'd just been asked what I'd thought of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. But, since this was about two weeks into a 100k per month account, I tread carefully. “Well,” I responded, “She's certainly direct.” The client smiled, nodded his head and said, “Yup. She's EXACTLY what Yahoo needs.”

Well, as events turned out, the client was dead wrong. Carol Bartz was exactly what Yahoo DIDN'T need. She didn't turn things around. And, her foul-mouthed, acerbic ways (beautifully illustrated in this video, BTW) succeeded in alienating any support she might have otherwise garnered to protect her when the company continued to languish.

Instead, Carol Bartz and her salty tongue are walking away with a golden parachute that, were she so inclined, would probably buy enough rocket fuel to propel HER f*ucking ass to Mars. Which is where she, and other foul-mouthed, fear-mongering CEOs belong.

Aug 26

The Pol Pot of supersized portions

First it was Hosni Mubarak. Then, Muammar el-Qaddafi. Now comes news there's been a coup d'etat at Burger King as well, and the King has been banished.

The media cited words such as 'creepy' and 'disturbing' to explain the king's overthrow. I'd add “…horrific role model, guilty of encouraging millions to eat themselves to an early grave”.

Ronald_mcdonald_arrestedWith the king gone, I'm hoping that, like the Arab Spring, we'll now see an Obesity Fall. And Ronald McDonald should be the first to go.

The sadistic-looking clown is public enemy number one. He's the ultimate fast food despot who, in fact, has a far creepier and disturbing side than the late Burger King. Ronald, you see, was purposely created to be a junk food version of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. Kids loved Ronald and, boy, did Ronald love kids (mind you, I'm not suggesting pedophilia was a motivator. To the best of my knowledge, Ronald was never ordained).

Ronald McDonald ensnared generations of unwitting kids with his mini amusement park rides, Happy Meal treats and 'life is a blast' at Mickey D's marketing campaigns. The bastard is single-handedly responsible for countless cases of morbid obesity and their associated complications. He's the Pol Pot of supersized portions.

So, here's hoping that, with the king gone, we'll now see Ronald McDonald deposed. And, let's not stop there. The Obesity Fall should include Colonel Sanders, the Pillsbury Dough Boy (who should be chained to a treadmill until he losses those multiples layers of dough) and other icons of obesity.

The king is dead! Long live sensible eating!

Now, let's round up some mercenaries, a platoon or two of paramilitary types and order a NATO air strike on Oakbrook, Illinois (where Ronald and his family maintain their palatial estate).

Aug 17

And smoking cigarettes is good for your health

Ske_couch_potato_lgRonald McDonald must be smiling from ear to maniacal ear after reading a truly bizarre new  report from the York University School of Kinesiology & Health Science.

In the York study, assistant professor Jennifer L. Kuk says obese people who are otherwise healthy live just as long as their slim counterparts. And, get this, Kuk's study showed otherwise healthy obese people are even LESS likely than lean people to die of cardiovascular disease! Who funded this research, White Castle?

Dr. Kuk hypothesized that “…trying and failing to lose weight may be more detrimental than simply staying at an elevated body weight and engaging in a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.”

Now, hold on there, partner. If an obese person engages in a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, he'd no longer be an obese person! What am I missing here?

I don't buy Kuk's premise for one minute (or calorie, for that matter). In fact, I'd point her to an equally obtuse, just-released study from a slightly better known institution: Yale University's School of Medicine.

In that study, Yale's Dr. David L. Katz determined that people who watch six hours of television a day lose a full five years off their life. Why? Surprisingly, it's not the horrific programming. Instead, says Katz, a couch potato's lifestyle leads to “…a greater risk for obesity and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.” Put that in your Whopper with extra cheese and smoke it, Dr. Kuk.

Still, if Kuk can find a silver lining in obesity, I have to believe she'll be swamped with corporate funding offers from such merchants of death as R.J. Reynolds. I could see them paying her a cool (Kool?) mil to say smoking two packs of cigarettes a day actually improves one's heart and lung functions. And, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dos Equis underwrite a Kuk study that says downing a case of their swill once a week will enhance liver functions.

The sky's the limit for a woman who I'd label as the mad professor of death.

But, hey, if things don't work out for you at York University, Dr. Kuk, I know a great, new place for you to settle down: Evansville, Indiana. I'll bet the town fathers would welcome you with open arms and expanded waistlines. Heck, they'd probably even insist on building the "Jennifer L. Kuk Center for the Advancement of Obesity."

And a tip o' RepMan's hat to Sir Edward Aloysius Moed and Greg Schmalz for this idea.

Jul 20

From ambassador to vigilante

When United and Continental merged, the move was accompanied by the usual marketing hoopla.  AaaaaaaaaaaaE-mails promising 'increased efficiency,' 'greater service,' and 'expanded routes' were routinely pushed to this long-time Continental customer.

But, almost immediately, I noticed a slow, but steady, deterioration. First, my long-time Gold Elite status simply disappeared with no explanation whatsoever. Then, my regular routes began experiencing far more delays than before.

But, the real clincher occurred over the past few days as I attempted to fly home from Portland, Maine, to Newark.

My original flight was scheduled to depart at 1pm on Monday. At about 6pm Sunday evening, though, I received a trip alert e-mail notifying me the flight had been canceled. No explanation was provided. A second e-mail followed shortly thereafter. It provided a URL and 888 number for me to call "…with any questions." I had a question all right, "How the hell was I supposed to get home?"

We dutifully called the number provided and, after the usual 15-minute wait and countless bilingual prompts, we reached a live person. She told us she'd book us on the next available flight from Portland to Newark. The scheduled departure time was now 7pm on Monday night. Oh, she said our original flight had been canceled because of weather. Yeah, sure.

Once I arrived at Portland airport on Monday afternoon, the Continental trip alerts began pouring into my blackberry. They said the originating flight was late departing Newark, but would only be delayed by five minutes. No, make that 35 minutes. No, wait, make it a full hour. Oh never mind, the plane just arrived. We were told by a gate agent to board immediately so as not to lose our departure slot. Yes ma'am. Will do, ma'am.

The pilot apologized for the delay, but promised the flight would be '….a very short 59 minutes.' About 90 minutes later, the pilot sighed and said, 'Ah, ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed we've been circling for the past half hour.' Damn straight I'd noticed. I was tired and hungry and wanted to get home pronto. The pilot explained that '…weather at Newark had deteriorated and that we had about 20 more minutes of fuel.' Now, that was comforting to hear. What would happen when the fuel ran out? Would be asked to flap our wings?

The pilot came back on the P.A. a few minutes later to tell us we were being diverted in order to re-fuel. Nice. So, now, instead of being home at, say, 3pm Monday afternoon I was, instead, parked on the always scenic Albany, NY, tarmac at 10 pm.

We eventually arrived home at midnight, some nine full hours later than originally planned.

As I deplaned, I noticed the countless placards and banners boasting about the United/Continental merger. They all said the same thing: 'It's not who's merging that's exciting, but what's about to emerge.' Ha! I can tell you what's emerged: a third rate airline that can't get its act together.

Sadly, Continental is just the latest in a long line of brands that promise one sort of experience but deliver a totally different one. As a result, I've gone from being a brand ambassador to a vigilante.

So, caveat Continental. I'll be gunning for you, or United, or whatever it is you're now calling that steaming mess of a merged airline. Keep messing with me and I'll keep spreading news about your delays, disingenuous explanations and diverted flights.

Epilogue: when we met our driver at Newark Airport, he asked what had happened. I told him Newark Airport had been closed because of severe weather and we'd been diverted to Albany. 'Severe weather?' he asked incredulously. 'It hasn't rained a drop here all day long.'"

Jun 15

You’re pushing 60 and look like hell

Although it suffers from a typically, feel-good Hollywood ending, 'The Company Men' is nonetheless  a better than average movie about business.

The plot revolves around a series of plant closings and massive downsizings at the fictional GTX (a multi-industry type conglomerate along the lines of Honeywell, Raytheon or Tyco). Indeed, Craig T. Nelson's portrayal of a Dennis Kozlowski-type, morally and ethically challenged CEO who rakes in $22 million per annum while ripping apart a once proud rust belt giant, is gripping.

The cast is rounded out by Ben Affleck (playing Ben Affleck, of course. The man has the range of paper airplane), Chris Cooper (who is superb in his everyman role) and Tommy Lee Jones (whose severely lined face reminds me of one of the maps we use to navigate mountain climbs).

ArowThe flick's seminal moment comes when a recently downsized Cooper strolls into a Challenger Gray-type outplacement firm and plops his world weary self down in a chair opposite a career counselor. The latter starts freshening Cooper's resume and making suggestions how he might reinvent himself. Cooper will have none of it. In response, the outplacement counselor slams down his resume, points her finger at Cooper and says, “You're pushing 60 and look like hell. Do you actually think you'll find something?”

I won't reveal any of the movie's twists and turns but, as I said it's well worth watching, especially for PR people. Here's why:

– I interview far too many Chris Cooper types who, after a career at a large holding company's PR firm or an in-house corporate communications department, have been set adrift in their mid 50s. They're floundering, have no readily transferable skills to a social media-driven profession, yet are still looking for upwards of $350k per annum.

– Far too many PR Millennnials have no real clue how the business of business works. Oh, they know social media and they get the rapid changing world of the blogosphere, but they don't understand PR's role within the larger organization. Nor can they read an annual report or balance sheet. Nor do they grasp the physical, emotional and psychological damage a downsizing will cause (unless one of their parents has fallen prey to rightsizing).

The Company Men is no Glengarry Glen Ross which remains, in my estimation, the single best movie EVER made about business. But, it is worth ordering on demand. And, as I said to my wife Angie as I watched Cooper suffer one indignity after another, “There but for the grace of god go I.”