Oct 23

Do you know the names of your industry’s founding fathers?

Could you imagine anyone who works in aviation not knowing the pioneering roles of Orville and Wilbur Wright? Same question holds true for the oil & gas sector. Could anyone not know the name and accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller?

But, when I’ve guest lectured at countless college and university PR classes over the years and asked about our field’s pioneers, the average student is hard pressed to name anyone aside from Edward Bernays.

That’s a shame since the invaluable contributions of pioneers ranging from Ivy Lee and Arthur W. Page to John W. Hill and Al Golin have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the current and future generation of practitioners.

Happily, one of our founding fathers is very much alive and well and, at the robust age of 96, still shows up for work every day at his eponymous agency.

I’m speaking about Harold Burson, who has just published his autobiography: “The Business of Persuasion.”

Mr. Burson’s magnus opus is published by RosettaBooks. You can contact production@rosettabooks.com to order a copy(ies).

I’m not in the business of promoting books written by competitive agency owners, but The Business of Persuasion is not merely the tale of a true visionary, but an insider’s guidebook that comes replete with invaluable takeaways at the end of each chapter.

I intend to write two other blogs about the book this week. The first will summarize how the young Harold Burson created his own “brand” while still in high school and continually leap-frogged far older, more experienced professionals to achieve remarkable success at the tender age of 24.

The second blog will address the man’s vision and accomplishments over the decades, and explain in greater detail why PR Week described Harold Burson as, “….The 20th century’s most influential PR figure.”

Now that you know who he is, I urge you to buy the book and analyze Mr. Burson’s journey to greatness. I can’t think of a more relevant guide for Millennials and Generation Z types struggling to figure out how to differentiate themselves and create their own paths to success.

Oct 17

Rudderless in a perfect storm

Much has already been written about Harvey Weinstein’s decision to retain the service of Sitrick and Company, one of the best-known crisis firms in the country.

Most of the rhetoric has either excoriated Sitrick for defending such a heinous client who continues to see one starlet after another come forward with new accusations of rape. Others defend Sitrick arguing that, as is the case in our jurisprudence system, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and deserving of counsel.

Few, if any, have weighed in on what I have to believe are the toxic effects of Sitrick’s decision on the average Sitrick employee.

It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of such controversial clients as Big Tobacco and quasi-dictatorships, but the Weinstein crisis strikes at the very root of our nation’s latest flashpoint: sexual harassment. I wonder how female employees of Sitrick explain to their family and friends how they can work for an organization that is defending such an alleged serial predator. That can’t be a fun discussion.

And while Sitrick has a long-standing record of defending controversial clients, this could prove to be their Waterloo. Just look at what happened to Bell Pottinger, a leading U.K. public relations consultancy. They found out the hard way that defending the wrong client at the wrong time can not only destroy employee morale, but actually put the firm out of business.

I believe Sitrick chose to defend Weinstein because the firm lacks a clear purpose (Note: a purpose may be defined as why an organization exists, why its employees show up to work every day and what higher purpose does the company serve). In other words, the firm is rudderless.

I recently co-authored a blog with Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society in which we said: “An overwhelming number of employed adults expect their organizations to speak up in times of crisis. But doing so should be guided by the corporate character (or purpose, if you will). A purpose should serve as a company’s ethical and moral company, and guide a CEO’s decisions and actions.”

Lacking purpose, Sitrick chose profits over people (and principles) and, I believe, will pay a very heavy price.

After word: I did some quick sleuthing to see if some of the best PR firms in the business do, in fact, have a clear purpose. They do. Two of the best came from:

  • Edelman: “….We drive powerful connections between companies and the greater good. In other words, we help marry profits and purpose…”
  • Weber-Shandwick: “….We’re energized by the ways our diverse global network of employees apply their passion and ideas in partnership with clients around the world to contribute to a brighter future.”

I’d like to believe that neither Richard Edelman nor Andy Polansky, CEOs of Edelman and Weber, respectively, would even entertain the notion of representing Harvey Weinstein since their purpose would guide them to do the exact opposite.

Oct 10

Have lecture, will travel

I’ve had the unique privilege to address two classes of public relations students/executives in the past week. The initial victims attend George Washington University. The second group participates in a master’s program in communications management at the University of Toronto.

In each instance, I found the students/executives hungry for information about CEO advocacy in particular, and best practices for dealing with an unexpected attack from the West Wing.

Happily, and courtesy of The Institute for Public Relations and the Arthur W. Page Society, I was well-equipped to field each, and every question, and cite both proprietary primary research as well as highly relevant secondary research to support my arguments.

I suggested that public relations in general, and the CCO in particular, has never been better positioned to provide counsel to the CEO in the new normal of fake news, hate-mongering and personal attacks. Indeed. I firmly believe the CCO should be carefully advising her CEO in terms of when to advocate and how best to communicate it.  As my colleague, Roger Bolton, president of the Page Society mentioned in our recent PRSA-sponsored webinar, an organization should follow its corporate purpose, mission and values statement in positing  a POV on everything from Charlottesville and DACA to climate change and women’s rights. And the CCO should always be serving as his organization’s ethical and moral compass.

I recently interviewed Colleen Penhall of Lowes, who  provided a best practices roadmap for the path her organization took in determining a corporate purpose that has profoundly impacted every aspect of her organization and equipped the CEO with guidelines should he choose to speak out on an issue of the day. Other CCO’s who have yet to determine their organization’s purpose would be well-advised to follow Colleen’s lead.

CEO advocacy will only become more important in the days, weeks and months to come. The wisest orgazanitons are those who have already taken time to anticipate what cannot be anticipated, and created various responses that have been approved, in advance, by the entire C-Suite.

We live in interesting times. And, neither digital gurus nor advertising copywriters have a clue as to how best to navigate TrumpWorld. These are heady times for the public relations profession, and I’m more convinced than ever that we will rise in stature as employees and stakeholder audiences look for a CEO to provide a voice of reason in a time of turbulence.

Jul 27

“So what?”

Nicole “Kick-Kick” Moreo is Director, Research & Insights, at Peppercomm. She also serves as Vice Chair of AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication), one of the leading media intelligence and insights organizations in the world. Last, but not least, before injuring her back, Kick-Kick was widely seen as Peppercomm’s kickball team’s answer to Mia Hamm.

Just a few days ago, Adweek ran a major feature headlined: “The 2016 Election Was a Wake-Up Call for Marketers, Forcing Many to Rethink Big Data“.

I found the premise (Hillary’s over dependence on data blinded her to the seminal shift in voter emotions) to be flimsy at best. But, hey, I’m not a data analytics superstar, so what do I know?

So, in search of truth in a post-truth world, I turned to Kick-Kick for clarity:

  • Do you think the Clinton campaign’s dependence on big data did, indeed, play a significant role in their loss?

I think there were many variables, even some that we will only learn about as time goes on,  and data was only one piece of a larger puzzle. To put the blame on data is really over simplifying the conversation and just highlights the fact that most people do not understand data.

2.) Is Big Data just the latest shiny object? What happened to qualitative research, focus group findings and simply putting oneself in one’s constituents’ shoes and experiencing, first-hand, the value proposition of a brand, product or service?

I think what most people do not realize is that “Big Data” is simply “unstructured data”. Big Data is not a strategy in and of itself. A true analytics program is not purely driven by Big Data, that is just one source of information. It has received a lot of coverage because new technologies are finally allowing us to tap into data previously unavailable or unmanageable, but a data strategy is comprised of many other variables. These variables include both qualitative and quantitative data sources all aimed at providing context. As many people quoted in the article mention, most people who comment on Big Data actually just do not understand how it fits into a bigger picture.

3.) What’s the answer? Do we have too many “lazy” marketers and agencies expecting data to make their decisions for them? Or will we see a new hybrid model emerge that marries the best of the art & science of research and measurement?

I do not think that laziness is the problem. I think the general lack of understanding how to use the data available is the problem. As the article mentions, our goal is to connect with audiences. An audience is not simply made up of engagement numbers, website clicks, or survey answers. It is how all of these actions come together to tell a story about an audience journey. Art and science are both needed.

I think marketing is currently dealing with two key issues: 1) an onslaught of data vendors who claim that they all have the answer to discovering true insights or ROI 2) a lack of historical context on how to use data and where it fits into the department/ agency mix. We can use data to test, measure and optimize for true insights more than ever before, but we still really just get caught reporting metrics.

I think the answer is simply analytics maturity. We have seen analytics teams growing across the board. These teams are made up of data scientists, data analysts, researchers and strategists that all have different backgrounds. I am personally excited to see how this will require marketers and agencies to ask smarter questions from their data and produce stronger insights.

4.) Any final thoughts?

Whenever I am asked to speak about data, my response usually centers around the importance of asking the right questions. Using all sorts of different manipulations, a human can really get data to say anything. Asking the right questions, and making sure you are collecting the right data is what really matters. I have had to say “so what” to many data reports. A graph is simply a pretty graph and a data point is simply a metric without context. You only get the context by asking the right questions.

# # #

More about Nicole:

Nicole leads Peppercomm’s research and analytics division, and has been with the company since 2011.  Nicole has designed and directed measurement, analytics and research programs for clients ranging from consumer, to financial and B2B.

Using the latest ideas in statistical, analytical and market research, Nicole is known for finding the answer of “what does success mean to you”. Nicole is Vice-Chair of AMEC North America and was named as one of the top 25 innovators in America by the Holmes Reports in 2016.

Find Nicole on Twitter at @kikimoreo.

 

Jul 06

Focusing on the Good Part II: The Invisible Illnesses

And, here’s the second of two guest blogs from Peppercomm’s Taylor Shawver…

Focusing on the Good Part II: The Invisible Illnesses

“Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there” – The Invisible Illnesses

Breaking the stigma around mental health has been a topic of conversation in recent years. There have been more people trying to bring down the biases against mental illnesses.

During my time at the College of Charleston (CofC), I had the opportunity to work with a woman who is now changing the world with individual’s stories and education. A fellow CofC graduate and Student Government Association colleague created The Invisible Illnesses, a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing the mental health stigma one story at a time. Founder, Emily Torchiana, initially created the organization as a project with her photographer Jesse Volk. The project shared weekly stories from College of Charleston students regarding their struggle with mental illnesses.

The impact of these stories quickly grew, and The Invisible Illnesses nonprofit organization was born. The Invisible Illnesses provides a public platform for individuals who suffer from mental illnesses to share their stories and connect with others.

It has truly been amazing seeing the development and growth of Emily’s success and The Invisible Illnesses. When her project kicked off on the CofC campus, many people were moved by the stories and were unaware of how many classmates suffered quietly. It is inspiring to watch how Emily and her team have expanded the awareness from the CofC campus to now, world-wide through 70 feature stories and 30 campus representatives at universities across the country.

Emily travels around the country to speak at different schools, events, and conferences about her experience with cyber bullying and mental health. Her courage to share her story has allowed many others to follow and open up about their experiences. This year at the Jefferson Awards, Emily received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Public Service. This is an award won by some of the most prestigious public figures including Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs.

Emily shared the most rewarding aspect of creating The Invisible Illnesses Organization: “The entire mission of this organization is to help those silently struggling to know they are not alone. So, it is incredibly rewarding because we have been able to create a support system for those who share and let those who are still hiding their struggles know it’s OK to get help.”

A recent college graduate is on her way to changing the world and has already affected the lives of many individuals. Remember, you are what you put your mind to, and you can accomplish anything no matter your age.

If you’d like to learn more about The Invisible Illnesses, please visit https://www.theinvisibleillnesses.org/.

Jul 05

Focusing on the Good Part I: Believe in Yourself

There are many, many worthwhile projects one can participate in, and truly make a difference.

Today and tomorrow, Peppercomm’s Taylor Shawver will talk about two in particular that are near, and dear, to her heart (and should be of interest to you as well):

Focusing on the Good Part I: Believe in Yourself 

With so much craziness in the world around us, it’s easy to forget all of the good that is happening.

This two-part blog post series is dedicated to those who are doing good things and making this world a better place.

Sometimes, the most important conversations have a tendency to get lost in the mix of breaking news and “hot topics.” Conversations such as positive body image and cyber bullying are not always at the forefront of our daily news. Thankfully, there are people out there who, despite all of the other “stuff” going on, remember the importance of these topics and strive to raise awareness about them.

Sam Sisakhti, CEO of UsTrendy, a popular online shopping site for young women and juniors, created the Believe in Yourself Project after growing increasingly concerned about the cyber bullying and body shaming he sees online.

As a young woman, this topic hits close to home for me. Positive body image is not a main subject covered in school or health class. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard friends and strangers comment on how they wish they looked like a celebrity, model, or Instagram influencer. The feeling of needing to compare yourself to others can be stronger than ever with the use of social media, and the models we constantly see as society’s “ideal” women.

The past few months, Sam has traveled throughout the United States delivering dresses to underprivileged girls as well as bringing in guest speakers to talk with them about building a positive body image. With hundreds of dresses already donated, the project is on its way to donating 10,000 dresses by the end of the year.

This summer the project is beginning its national mentoring programs. These programs will feature weekly interactive meetings in various cities across the country as well as in online seminars to reach girls all over the world. The meetings will include open-table discussions where women will mentor and have conversations with girls about creating and maintaining a positive body image, and how to combat and deal with cyber bullying.

The increasing emphasis on social media emanates higher levels of bullying and body shaming. People are more apt to compare their life with someone else’s on social media. Sam saw this issue and decided to take action, helping girls all across the world by opening the conversation. I believe this open dialogue will allow for greater awareness as well as help young girls to realize the importance of these issues and how to deal with them.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Believe in Yourself Project, please visit http://www.believeinyourself.org/.

Jun 20

The Progress on Purpose

Arthur W. Page Member Marcia DiStaso recently authored a Page Turner blog that provides a deep dive into 70 organizations, revealing the progress they have, or haven’t, made in determining their Purpose, Corporate Character, Mission, Values, Principles and Beliefs.

I purposely provided that laundry list since, as DiStaso’s research pointed out, different organizations use any, or all, of the above terms to more or less describe the same thing. (Note: I found the very same lack of consensus when I recently interviewed 23 CCOs and CMOs on behalf of The Institute For Public Relations. If memory serves, not one respondent described digital in the same way.)

But, back to DiStaso’s work. She found that:

– 73 percent of respondents had examined or redefined their mission/vision/purpose in the past three years, and 43 percent had done so in the past year;

– 67 percent had examined or redefined their values/principles/beliefs in the past three years; and 36 percent has done so in the past year; and

– More than one-quarter indicated their organization needs to examine or redefine corporate character (which, in my opinion,  means they haven’t done a thing).

I found the report fascinating since we’re knee-deep in defining an updated Purpose that will align with our re-positioning and branding. While we’ll remain a public relations firm at heart we will, in fact, be digitally-driven. Indeed, we’ve hired scores of researchers, designers, digital strategists, data analytics specialists and an HVAC repairman named Harry. I’m still trying to figure out his role in the grand scheme of things.

For those organizations that have succeeded in defining their “new” corporate character, CEO buy-in was a MUST. So, too, were “getting the semantics right”; “ensuring buy-in at all levels”; “aligning with business strategy”; and “keeping it simple”. I’ve found the latter is usually a deal breaker whenever decisions are made by consensus.

A few other interesting tidbits:

– More B2C companies have a defined corporate character that do their B2B counterparts (I’m not sure if the first cohort did, or didn’t, include Uber. Regardless, the company needs yet another new Purpose).

– More non-US companies have a defined corporate character than those in the good, old U.S. of A. That was a bit of stunner for me.

– And larger organizations were far more likely to have a Purpose than small businesses. That seems obvious since the latter can’t invest the same level of time or resources to examine all of the elements that comprise corporate character.

One last point: ALL respondents from the consumer packaged goods and telecommunications industries had a defined Purpose.

Many in the technology, food & beverage, healthcare/pharmaceutical, financial services and energy fields were laggards, pure and simple. That’s puzzling, if not downright troubling.

It strikes me that, in an era marked by fake news, hate crimes, intense divisiveness and god knows what else, a carefully-defined corporate character has never been more important. It does far more than address why you exist and what higher purpose you serve; it provides something of a safe harbor for every organization’s constituent audience in the tsunami-like seas of 2017. And, lord knows, we need as many safe harbors as we can find.

Feb 16

You da man!

Success

I had a fascinating conversation the other day with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun and his senior communications strategists. We were discussing the subject of trust, the erosion of trust in virtually every segment of society, and the need for current and future generations to re-adjust their definitions of success as a result.

I volunteered that I’d noticed quite a few Millennial-focused surveys of late in which respondents seem to accept the very real possibility that, due to the economy, limited job options, staggering student loans and global competition, they may never attain their parents’ level of success. But, many seem undaunted and, in fact, point to new, and different, definitions of success, including: 

-      Achieving a work-life balance

-      Feeling fulfilled in one’s occupation

-      Believing one’s contributions are somehow making a difference for the better.

That’s very different from the definition of success when I grew up.

We were told one wasn’t successful unless one at least earned one’s age (i.e. $25,000 per annum if one were 25 years old, etc.). We were also led to believe that success meant getting married, fathering 2.4 kids, as well as owning a dog and a house with the requisite white picket fence (I scored with the wife and two kids, and now am pleased to say I report to two pooches: Mick and Rooney, respectively).

I also came of age in the Me Generation, monster-of-the-universe Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is Good’ Wall Street era. In fact, I distinctly remember a great example of success in the late 20th century. We were dining with my next door neighbor who, at the time, toiled at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. He was boasting about a huge raise and year-end bonus. Then, he glanced down at his PDA and shouted: ‘Look at this! ‘My boss just e-mailed saying, Jimmy, you da man!’ It was nauseating to say the least.

Well, with Wall Street, Main Street and just about every other street either stagnating or in full retreat, the You Da Man moments seem to be dwindling in an inverse ratio to our country’s budget deficit. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some incredibly successful executives rising through the ranks in the near and long-term future; it just means there will be fewer masters and mistresses of the universe.

So, knowing that, how have you personally re-defined success? I’m especially interested in hearing from my Millennial readers (as well as the Generation X and Baby Boomers who have been forced to re-set their expectations as a result of the New Normal). Success is still there for each and every one of us. It just may no longer look like a million dollar paycheck, a trophy wife, two kids, a dog, a house and a picket fence anymore.  

What will it look like to you, and what do you envision prompting a boss or peer to text a message saying, ‘You da man!'

 

Feb 03

Agencies look for rising stars, not waning ones

Repman

Advertising Age's cover story about 55-year-old creative director Dave Shea's trials and tribulations in finding full-time employment should be a cautionary tale to any reader of any age.

Shea was a successful copywriter and creative director at such blue-chip advertising agencies as the legendary Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, the equally legendary (and the original) Saatchi & Saatchi, Campbell-Mithun and, most recently, Geppetto, a small agency within the vast WPP network (where Ed and I once toiled).

Geppetto canned Shea (and refused to tell Ad Age why) about 15 months ago. He's been high and dry ever since.

Shea's epic odyssey to find full-time employment is a positively spell-binding story. According to Ad Age, no matter how hard he networked or how many cold calls he pursued, Shea simply couldn't get to first base. Every agency ignored him because, at the age of 55, Shea was untouchable. His gray hair was a red light.

Source after source told Ad Age that firms turned a blind eye to the eminently qualified Shea. One summed it up beautifully by saying, 'Agencies look for rising stars, not waning ones.' (Ouch. I hope you have a nice day as well).

The Ad Age article confirmed what I'd already suspected: advertising agencies are positively spellbound by the digital revolution, Mark Zuckerberg and the next, bright shiny object. As a result, they mistakenly believe Millennials are the ONLY ones who get the hottest trends, technologies and talk. As a result, experienced veterans like Shea have no chance whatsoever of landing a decent job.

The article was a show-stopper for me for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Ad agencies STILL don't get that social media, digital, Web 2.0, or whatever one chooses to call it, is nothing more than a communications channel. Guys: Hello! It's not about the technology. It's about the conversation and how best to engage in it. Happily, that's what PR firms do best. It's also why we're winning more and more of the client's overall marketing spend.
  • However gifted and uber cool they may be, Millennials lack the broad perspective and innate understanding that's fundamental to deciding what to say, when to say it and to whom. Sorry kids, but you don't get it. Not yet anyway.
  • Age discrimination is not limited to advertising agencies. There's no doubt in my mind that PR has just as many 55-year-old Dave Shea-types who have been shown the door by WPP, Interpublic, Omnicom or Publicis, and find themselves permanently unemployed. PR trade publications simply choose to ignore it:

Reporter: 'We really should do a Dave Shea-type story.'

Editor: 'Age discrimination in PR? No way, Jose.  So, how many new accounts did Edelman win this week?

Reporter: 'The usual. One every 13 seconds.'

Editor: 'Great. There's our headline!'

I count my blessings that, unlike Dave Shea, I decided to bid adieu to my holding company mother ship in 1995 and, along with Ed, build my own thing. If I hadn't, the odds are good I'd be just like Mr. Shea; mailing my resume, placing phone calls and sending e-mails to headhunters and holding company recruiters alike. And, there's no doubt I'd receive the same response as Shea: deafening silence.

A quick after word for my Millennial readers: you'll be dealing with your very own age-related issues faster than you can say Father Time. So, enjoy your time in the sun while you can.

As Sir Mick & The Boys once sang, 'Time waits for no one, and it won't wait for me.' Or, you either.

Dec 19

Re-branding pure evil

I guess it's another sign of the bizarre times in which we live, but Al Qaeda just announced it's re-branding itself.

Slide1-1Trying to distance the heinous organization from its terrorism tag, Al Qaeda is now officially calling itself 'Ansar al-Sharia', which means Army of Islamic Law.

An organization official said the re-branding was necessary in order to attract more foreign fighters to the cause. An anonymous diplomat said the Al Qaeda name 'seems to have negative connotations and baggage'.

You think? That's like saying Hitler had some emotional issues.

I wonder if Ansar al-Sharia will also re-brand some of the Al Qaeda key words and tactics? Will:

– Jihad now be 'population redistribution'
– Suicide bombing now be 'a one-way ticket to 76 virgins'
– A roadside bombing now be called 'an infrastructure upgrade'

On a slightly lighter note (as the morning talk show buffoons like to say), Blackwater, the sleazy U.S. security firm to whom W, Cheney and Rummy handed over many Iraqi government tasks previously handled by Sadam Hussein's soldiers (and, then, went rogue, wiping out scores of innocent Iraqi civilians) announce its SECOND re-branding.

Initially, Blackwater had changed its name to Xe Services. Alas, though, their gung-ho, paramilitary culture was firmly entrenched. So, new management was put in place and a second name was announced: Academi. Are they now the 'institute of black ops'?

I'll be interested to see which re-branding proves more successful.

Being the altruistic blogger that I am, I'd like to help. In fact, I've devised taglines that, I believe, will speed the re-branding education process:

Ansar al-Sharia: 'Years of training for a moment of terror'

Academi: 'Kicking ass and taking names in puppet states'

I'd like to end by asking Repman readers to suggest their taglines for these two inherently evil organizations.

Many of you are PR and marketing specialists, so why not give it a shot?

I'll pick the funniest ones and, if you're in town the same day as one of my stand-up comedy performances, will give you two free tickets for a show.

Maybe we can even discuss a re-branding for Repman? FYI, I'd like something that is synonymous with pure fun.

And a tip o' Repman's climbing helmet to Tucker Greco for suggesting this post.