May 25

Modern Britain is far from brutish

Guest post by Will Brewster, Account Director at Flagship Consulting, Peppercom's strategic partner firm across the pond

2012 is a big year for UK. Not only is London hosting the Olympics but in June we’re also celebrating the 60th year of the Queen’s reign with plenty of British pomp and circumstance. London will be full of people visiting us for the first time. The question is, will they like what they see?

No-vistirosIf you believe Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the Wall Street Journal recently, then no, they certainly won’t. If you believe him, then they’re likely to be greeted with litter-strewn streets and hedgerows, loud obnoxious youths on busses, and a population that would happily get on the first plane out of here. 

Dalrymple’s view is particularly worrying as we open our doors to the world. Already Londoners are starting to panic that we won’t cope. That public transport will grind to a halt and leave people stranded, that the weather will conform to stereotype, that busy Londoners will come across as rude and uncaring. Could he be right? Are we a bunch of uncivilised, individualistic, uncaring Neanderthals as he suggests?

I am unequivocal that the answer is “no” and I’m confident that come September, when it’s all over, Londoners and Brits in general will have done themselves very proud.

Yes, we certainly have our problems, and Dalrymple is right that many of us feel frustrated by certain sections of society.  Many young people (and some older ones), especially in cities, can be rude, aggressive and lacking in respect for authority (witness the riots last summer). We have large sections of society who drink too much (I’m not sure we’re alone there though)  and, be it through fear or a growing sense of despair, the civilised majority are now less prepared to stand up for what it right and confront people for doing wrong.  ‘Walking on by’ as litter is dropped, as fights develop or as disrespect is shown is common and worrying.

To suggest, however, as he does, that 50% of the population is eager to leave the country to escape the other 50% is absolute rubbish. If indeed half are seeking to flee, then it’s more likely to be house prices and the weather that is driving this, not the behaviour of youths on the bus or litter in bushes.   Our population keeps growing, so someone, somewhere, must enjoy living here!

A visitor to the Olympics this year will not find the Britain that Darymple describes in his piece. They are more likely to notice that here people wait patiently in line for the ATM, for the ticket machine, and even at the bar; that personal space and privacy is cherished and respected and people are allowed to live their lives largely the way they want.

Even many of the perceived failings of Londoners (a standoffishness and lack of interaction with strangers) are actually borne out of a strength – that of respect for privacy. We only ignore fellow Tube travellers, for example, because we find the thought of sharing such a small space with compete strangers quite scary. So we pretend we’re not there and hope it will be over soon!

Visitors will also notice the quiet (you can often hear almost complete silence on the top deck of a bus).  They’ll notice the mutterings of “sorry, sorry” as people manoeuvre past each other on the street. They’ll notice that, if they ask for help when lost, the British people will go to great lengths to help them find their way – the trick is to ask!

The majority of Brits are kind, charming, caring and welcoming to others. We’re a private people that happen to live on a very small island and, in London, a very congested city. The fact that we rub along so well is actually pretty remarkable.

As we welcome the world this year I think that Dalrymple’s England will not be what visitors find. It does exist in pockets, but all societies have their extremes and I hope that no one is put off visiting by the dystopia he paints.  

Dec 16

Am I the only one who still loves NY?

Take a guess where New York City finished in The Reputation Institute’s 2011 City Mountain-,,goat-1 RepTrak? Forty-ninth place.

I will repeat that: Manhattan finished 49th! So much for ‘I love NY’. Heck, if you believe The Reputation Institute, just about no one loves New York anymore.

In fact, the Big Apple barely finished in the top half of a group of cities the Institute ranked on overall trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings as well as such other attributes as the local economy, administration and general appeal.

London topped the list (and, since I’m an Anglophile and absolutely adore Londontown, I have no problem with that at all). But London was followed by, get this, Geneva, Switzerland… Geneva Bloody Switzerland!

I just visited Geneva and, if pressed to describe it in one word, I’d opt for ‘boring’ with a capital B, and that rhymes with G, which stands for: ‘Gee, what was The Reputation Institute thinking?’

According to The Reputation Institute (a former Peppercom client, BTW), there’s “…a direct link between cities’ reputation and people’s willingness to visit them or do business in them.” Oh.
Kasper Nielsen (a good guy, BTW) says, ‘”…people are almost three times more likely to visit cities ranked in the top 10 compared with those ranked in the bottom 10 of the reputation ranking.” To which I respond: balderdash!

There’s no way tourists are selecting Geneva, Switzerland, over Manhattan. No way.
Could you imagine a happily married couple evaluating the relative charms of each venue for their upcoming vacation?

Lars: “Look at this, Helga. In New York, we can choose from the new 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Broadway theatre, the U.N., Times Square and, of course, the Circle Line cruise.”
Helga: “Not so fast, Lars. Geneva has that water spout in the middle of Lake Geneva. The children love water spouts.”
Lars: “Ach. It is a dilemma. How will we ever decide?”

Sometimes, people take data too literally. And, while a city such as Geneva may poll dramatically higher than either New York or Hong Kong in certain categories, I simply do not believe that, when push comes to shove, the city by the lake is going to take tourism dollars or convention business away from its far bigger, far cooler competitors.

I hate to say this, but I’m questioning the reputation of the Reputation Institute’s City RepTrak.

What’s next? A Reputation Institute survey that reveals Americans have selected Fargo, SD over Camden, NJ, as the nation’s most livable crime capital? I wouldn’t buy it for a second. Not with the likes of Oakland, Houston and Miami in the wings.
As one of Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’ baseball managers once said of his mathematical stats showing his improvement from one year to the next, ‘Tell your statistics to shut up!” Someone needs to say the same thing to The Reputation Institute.”


Jul 12

Nothing to Bloody Smile About

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer (and UK citizen) Carl Foster.

As the world’s preeminent media mogul, you might expect Rupert Murdoch to have this public relations thing down pat. Evidence would suggest otherwise. NOTW

Let’s ignore the fact that Murdoch-owned News International has ignored the standard PR crisis modus operandi of ‘tell it all, tell it early’. When an investigator working for Britain’s largest selling Sunday newspaper, The News of the World, was jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royals and celebrities, the News International hierarchy must have known that this was just the beginning. Coming clean was never on the agenda though and the level of institutional obfuscation, with thousands of deleted emails, is only now becoming apparent. For News International, and its parent company, News Corp, ‘tell it all, tell it early’ became ‘tell nothing and circle the wagons’.

Anyway, back to the here and now. Much was made of Murdoch flying to London to take charge of the crisis, a crisis that has ballooned from hacking the phones of celebs to that of a murdered schoolgirl, families of soldiers killed in Iraq and possibly even the families of 9/11 victims. So, when Murdoch’s plane touched down you’d think it would be an ideal chance to make a short statement about sorting this mess out. But no. Instead, the evidence of his presence in Britain was a sneaked snapshot of him driving away from the airport looking like the man from Del Monte.

Next, Murdoch went to his Mayfair apartment to meet Rebekah Brooks, the editor of NOTW at the time of the alleged hackings and now chief executive of News International. Murdoch and Brooks are close; according to The Economist they share an almost familial bond. It is understandable they would want a tête-à-tête before heading into the breach, but the meeting was badly managed.

First, they met in Mayfair. In the British version of Monopoly, Mayfair is the last place on the board before you collect your £200. Nothing like reinforcing the image of being an elitist.

Second, when they emerged they were dressed with all the gravity of a Sunday afternoon game of bowls in Henley-on-Thames. When an investigator working in your name hacked into the cell phone of a missing schoolgirl and deleted messages, which gave hope to her parents that she was alive when in fact she was dead warrants at least a tie, don’t you think?

Third, they are smiling! Bloody smiling!

Fourth, and this is the clincher, with thousands of people all over Britain wondering what intrusion might have occurred in their worst moments of personal tragedy, Murdoch was asked what his top priority was. Punishing those responsible? Giving what compensation might be possible to those affected? No. His answer? ‘This One’, referring to Rebekah Brooks.

This story has got a long way to run. Some are calling it Britain’s Watergate. Whatever the case, News International should try and avoid making matters worse for itself with poor public relations.

Mar 04

Remember Lockerbie

Cheers to Chris "RepMan, Jr." Cody for the idea.

Heathrow passport control agents aside, I adore London. A lifelong Anglophile, I've always enjoyed LondonTown's rich mix of history, cultural diversity and trendiness.

As I flit about from appointment to appointment, I take the opportunity to ask cabbies, building security guards and receptionists alike their views of current events.

Not surprisingly, almost everyone is focused on the seismic events unfolding in the Middle East. But, unlike Americans, the Brits with whom I've spoken are passionate about the plight of Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el- Qaddafi. Brits are not only mesmerized by the unfolding events; they're taking it personally. Why? Because no one has forgotten Qaddafi's role in the downing of Pan Am flight 103. Lockerbie_1819219c    

I found that visceral response fascinating since I've yet to hear it mentioned in any American news coverage of the turmoil in Libya. Nor have I heard a single American mutter, 'Remember Lockerbie!' as so many Brits have (note to Millennial readers: In 1988, terrorists placed a bomb on Pan Am flight 103 which detonated over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. Some 275 passengers, crew and people on the ground were killed: 189 were Americans and 49 were Brits).

So, why the dichotomy between Brits and Yanks? I think the answer is obvious. We Americans are much more insular. We care more about the white dress Lindsay Lohan wore to her latest court hearing and Charlie Sheen's latest, nonsensical outbursts than we do about what's going down in the Middle East.

British coverage is simply more global in its outlook. They'll cover the upcoming William and Kate wedding to be sure, but world events dominate the news. And, Brits also have a sense of history. They remember the past, despise Qaddafi for his ordering the downing of Flight 103 and eagerly await a similar fate for the murderous despot.

The common man's take on global events says a great deal about his country's image and reputation. The average American's knowledge of Libya is cursory at best; our collective memories of Lockerbie virtually nonexistent. And, that is one reason why we continue our slow, but steady, decline. As other societies obsess about what's happening around the world, we Yanks stay focused on Hollywood, health care and who's being cast for the next edition of 'Dancing with the stars.' It's frustrating to witness and scary to contemplate the long-term implications.

In the meantime, I'll line up alongside the average Brit and remind you to 'Remember Lockerbie!'

Aug 06

Two Centuries of Brand Building Pays Off

Today's guest post is by London Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Times2 The balance sheet of most major newspapers looks something like this: 

Advertising RevenueDown
Editorial StaffDown

The most radical move to counter this downward spiral has come from one of the world’s oldest newspapers, The Times (Incorrectly referred to by many as The Times Of London or The London Times). Last month The Times put all its content behind a pay wall – the first major, non-financial daily newspaper to do this. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the outcome of this experiment will determine the future of the newspaper industry.

Subscription to costs £1 for a 24 hour pass or £2 for a one week pass. (The daily print issue costs £1.) In the weeks leading up to the introduction of the pay wall, when visitors were asked to register to view articles, traffic fell 58 per cent. The paper’s share of UK news traffic, from sites like Google News, fell from 4.37 per cent to 1.83 per cent.

Losing almost two thirds of your customers overnight is enough to panic any business owner, but  is it really that bad? I don’t think so. First of all, have you lost 58 per cent of your customers or just 58 percent of your footfall coming through the shop door? How many people clicked through from Google News not caring if they read a story in The Times, The Daily Telegraph or, the 800 lb gorilla in the room, the publicly funded BBC? The fact that people should be focusing on (and the newspaper industry rejoicing at) is that 42 per cent of people chose to pay for their news from The Times. That is the kind of brand loyalty that 225 years of publishing gets you.

The other positive is that the people paying to access The Times’ content are a much more lucrative demographic than the froth that washes up on the site from a news aggregator. People see more value in things that they consider worth paying for, and that goes for consumers and advertisers. This is completely the opposite strategy to that taken by another stalwart of the British newspaper industry, the Evening Standard. As I blogged about last year, after more than 150 years, the Standard became a free newspaper. Yes, the readership grew significantly, but the brand, and the value of its content was reduced, irrevocably, in my opinion.

I am heartily encouraged by the apparent success at The Times and what it means for mainstream publishing. Yes, citizen journalism is important, and in situations like the Iran elections it can be invaluable. But don’t discount the big media groups. There are times when only the resources of a major newspaper can tell a story adequately. Two examples of this are the recent leak of the Afghanistan files to Wikileaks, which in turn passed them to The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. The other is the British Parliamentary expenses scandal, when thousands of pages were passed to The Daily Telegraph, which ensured the story was analyzed and told properly and responsibly.

There is much ill will directed at Rupert Murdoch, but as owner of The Times his brave experiment will hopefully prove to be the turning point for a troubled, yet vitally important industry.

May 28

Three takes on two very different crises

May 28
a special Memorial Day edition of RepMan, I’ve asked my roving band of guest
bloggers to posit their collective POVs on two very different crises: the BP
nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico and Sarah, the Duchess of York (aka Fergie) and
her sleazy move to sell access to her ex-hubby, Prince Andrew. I hope you’ll
find their takes of interest, encourage you to post comments and wish one and
all a long, happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend.

Abby Schoffman
reporting from New York on BP’s Twitter nightmare

in case BP doesn’t have enough to deal with right now, the digital world
decided to throw them something else to strategize about –
@BPGlobalPR. No, this isn’t the
company’s PR posse tweeting updates about the latest efforts in the top kill
efforts – you can find that over on
stream, the company’s legitimate account.

on the other hand, is a humorous imposter filling the Twitterverse with a
different take on the situation. The fake account was started last week and
already has almost 50,000 more followers than the official BP account. Although
some of the tweets
a bit vulgar, the
majority of them offer some comic relief, in an “I can’t believe they just said
that” kind of way. But I suppose it’s only humorous if you realize it’s not
actually BP spouting out things like “A bird just stole my sandwich! You
deserve everything you get, nature!!! #bpcares.”

people are mistaking the imposter account for BP’s real account – and they’re
getting pretty worked up about it. Having people think that a company is poking
fun at such a serious, self-created disaster with a satirical Twitter account
could create permanent brand damage. Unlike other cases of fraudulent Twitter
accounts, where they’ve been
taken down, BP is
letting it slide for now. According to a recent
AdAge article, BP is aware of the account
but realizes that people have the right to discuss their feelings about the

have mixed feeling about the account. I like that BP understands that people
are going to say whatever they want about the brand, whether BP likes it or
not. But if some people aren’t realizing it’s a joke, then maybe BP should step
in. That doesn’t mean they have to insist the account is taken down, but they need
to make it clear that the account isn’t affiliated with BP (although I’d argue
that it’s already pretty clear to the majority – or at least I’d hope so).

is this a case of a company realizing that you can’t control everything in the
realm of social media or is it that they just don’t know how to manage a crisis
in the digital space?

Ann Barlow in San Francisco
says BP’s full-page ads are about as effective as its oil-spill containment

pinning a lot of hope on the top-kill solution, BP’s attempt to halt the
seemingly inexorable flow of oil. 
Meanwhile, BP’s reputation is plummeting about rapidly as the health of
Gulf-area wildlife – and so far the solutions for both have been equally effective.

instance, BP has taken out full-page ads in a number of major newspapers across
the country to talk about what it’s doing and where readers can go for more
information. It’s using the opportunity to reinforce its commitment to making
things better, being the good corporate citizen that it is.

bad corporate ego, lawyers and an ability to rationalize almost anything will
prevent them from saying what we all need hear. That they screwed up.  They were arrogant. They were reckless. They
put the chance to make a little more money for shareholders and executives
ahead of the lives of the people, animals and plants across an enormous swath
of water and coastal land.

and until they can do that, I’d just as soon BP put its money into mopping up
the mess they made.  That’ll clean up
their reputation better than any ad can.

Of course, lucky for
the oil company as well as Exxon-Mobil and others that have wreaked 
havoc on the environment through shortcuts, people have short
memories, the media have an even shorter one, and BP has lots and lots of
lawyers. We’ll move on, BP will continue to make billions, and the Gulf Coast
will wonder why everyone forgot them. Maybe BP can take out full-page ads once
in awhile to remind us.

London’s Carl foster
on Fergie, the Royal Family’s version of an oil spill

two crises are ever the same, not least because every individual or organization
at the wrong end of a crisis has a different brand promise – the bigger the
brand, the harder the fall. Take the brand promise of Sarah, The Duchess of
York (to give her the official title). She is an aristocratic ex-royal; an
individual from whom you would expect the highest standards of behavior. Well,
it is exactly that expectation that makes a video of her accepting money from a
fake businessman to 'open doors' to her ex-husband, but still close friend,
Prince Andrew, the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and
Investment, all the more shocking. A football agent taking bribes? Who is
surprised? An ex-royal? Well, it's all terribly vulgar.

next for Fergie? Her PR people pulled their trusty crisis manual off the shelf
(and when you represent the Duchess of York it never gathers too much dust) and
started following the rules. Step one: Appear contrite, put out a statement
expressing regret and put your actions in context (she is broke). Step two:
Line up a high profile TV appearance, such as Oprah, to get your story out (at
least Oprah will be more effective for Fergie than full page newspaper ads are
for BP). Next you can expect her to lay low for quite sometime, then do some
staged appearances, then do some charity work, or in the case of Fergie, more
charity work.

the Duchess of York will be able to get over this reputation crisis and get
back to the point where she was respected as a businesswoman and admired for
her part in the most amicable divorce in Britain. A lot will depend on her PR
handlers from now on.

Nov 18

Newspapers vs. ‘Newspapers’

Guest Post by Carl Foster, Peppercom UK

Uk mags "Good morning, Trinity Mirror news desk"

"Hi, I'm calling from Trinity Mirror PR to follow up on the press release I sent you about our new widget"

"Oh, right. When did you send it?"

"Just a little while ago"

"And you're calling from where?"

"Trinity Mirror PR. We sit on the other side of the office from you. Look, I'm standing up and waving – yoo hoo!"

"Oh yes, hi. Can you send it to me again? Or better yet, just tell me where it's saved on the server and I'll copy and paste it from there."

That worrying scenario could play out at a newspaper near you if the suggestion of Neil Benson, editorial director at Trinity Mirror in the UK, comes true. The idea that struggling newspapers should set up PR agencies as an additional source of revenue has set tongues wagging in PR circles, but the notion should be of concern far beyond our little fiefdom.

Of course, desperate times call for desperate measures. We're certainly at the stage where no idea is a bad idea when it comes to saving the newspaper industry from further closures. However, if newspapers were to set up PR agencies, even if they were to operate at arm's length, their very credibility and trustworthiness would be called into question. If the model did prove financially successful it would not save the newspaper; it would simply mean it was replaced with a 'newspaper'.

The newspaper vs. 'newspaper' concept is not new. An Evening Standard column from earlier this year highlights the rise of councils in London producing their own pseudo-newspapers. According to the Standard, more writers in London are now employed by these official papers than by the local independent press. Who is paying for this? The Standard says one of these pseudo-newspapers, the Greenwich Time, has a total gross cost of £708,000 a year, with at least £532,000 of that borne by the public purse.

Apparently Andy Burnham, the then media secretary Andy Burnham said that council newspapers were "overstepping" the mark. But this is too vague. In the U.K. we need an U.S. FCC style proposal that requires transparency for "endorsements and testimonials" by people with "material connections" to sellers of a product or service.

Would a PR agency linked to a newspaper group have a "material connection"? One for the lawyers I think.

So if the credibility of some newspapers is in decline because of the source of their revenue, and the very existence of other newspapers is threatened by a collapse in revenue, where does that leave the citizens in our democracy that need varied but credible sources of news? Well, the ad-supported, free online (and sometimes offline) model doesn't seem to be working – even if the Evening Standard has put all its eggs in that one basket. At the other end of the spectrum we have Rupert Murdoch, who will be putting all News Corp. content behind subscription walls soon, and also possibly block Google from searching its pages.

Another suggestion, put forward by Greg Dyke, the former director general of the BBC, is a state-funded (not state-owned) media. This seems to be one of the few ways to guarantee that the media has the resources to provide credible and thorough news coverage. Dyke puts forward the suggestion in a debate on Al-Jazeera’s Empire programme, which is well worth watching. However, the question of how this funding would filter down from the giants of the BBC and France24 to local newspapers is a tricky to answer.   

So, in the spirit of no idea being a bad idea, how do you suggest the newspaper industry save itself from collapse?

Nov 06

The Close Relationship Between the UK and the US also Applies to the Media

How did the British view our election?  Today's blog by Sarah Wallace and Chris Cody provides a purely Brit view intertwined with that of an American in London.

So after months and months of anticipation, a new America is finally here!

The British public and the press have followed the race to the White House almost as intently as the Americans, and with good cause, as one British political commentator (I forget which one) remarked, “even though we don’t have a vote, it affects us all.”

Obama is heading for the White House. And it would appear the majority of the World, including the UK, is happy about this prospect.080727_obama_brown

It was of great interest to see, after the intense coverage this election has received over the past few months, what percentage of the media’s reporting would be dedicated to the result and it didn’t disappoint. 

On election day the newspapers and television were full of headlines, most of them referencing key words such as "historic" and "change" and of course the ever important by-line "America’s first black President".  Stories covered every possible angle from the initial reporting of the polls – African Americans and young people are finally getting out there and voting – to the challenges Barack will face when he is finally sworn in.  One article even covered what type of rug he will pick in the Oval office (apparently Bush’s rug cost $61,000!).

It seems that the UK public cannot get enough of this landmark election and our media is feeding this appetite. The British public have always had a good grasp of American politics, granted, the American President is the leader of the "free world" and America is the last remaining global superpower, so it benefits everyone to be up to date on his or her American politics, but there has always been a “special” relationship between these two countries, and this has been reinforced by the importance of this election and its ongoing coverage.

Most newspapers and websites have provided in-depth state-by-state breakdowns and analysis highlighting the early results right through to the final outcome.  Unsurprising, given that the UK has more than two million Americans currently residing here, most of whom are ardent proponents of British news coverage and would admit, often disdainfully, to changing the channel from ABC’s purported “world news” to the BBC’s legitimate world news, which provides astute political commentary and unbiased representations of both Republican and Democratic platforms.

The British press is well known across the World for its impartial and well researched reporting and just to reassert its credentials, The Times even went so far as to take out a full page advertisement, just to make sure that the British public are aware that since 1849 it has had a correspondent based in America.

It is clear that for months to come the British media will continue with this coverage and it will be of great interest to see whether this President-elect can really bring America back to what it once was: a country worthy of its status as a world leader.

Oct 01

In Need of Life Support

What must others think of the U.S. in light of our economic meltdown and inability to fix it? Carl Foster and Zara Gibb, two senior members of Peppercom’s UK office, offer their thoughts…

The "Special Relationship" doesn’t just mean Britain following America into Iraq, or the TV screens of Middle England being filled with the best of HBO, it seems you guys can’t even have a financial meltdown without us jumping on the bandwagon.

The UK actually had the first major headline in this saga – last year’s nationalisation of Northern Rock, a major UK bank. Then along came Bear Stearns and our problems began to look miniscule in comparison, and all that was before Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

9/11 made the world look at America differently – compassionately. Since then America’s reputation seems to have been in freefall. Regardless of our own debt-fueled decade of conspicuous consumption, all fingers point to the US when it comes to laying blame for the current global economic crisis. The attitude is: "America created this problem and so America needs to fix it." The front pages here lead with the surprise rejection of the bailout, many of them feature a gloomy photo of the Capital building.

Last week, the BBC’s business editor said of the bailout: “After leading us up the hill, it would be disastrous for American’s reputation if it failed to pass the measure.” In the words of John McFall, chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, U.S. politicians "turned off the life support system for the economy."

People in the UK (at least for these RepMan followers) are left perplexed by the shock refusal of Congress to agree to the bailout. Understood, hard-working taxpayers shouldn’t be left to carry the bill for the failures of the fat cats, and the finance giants themselves should sort this mess out – but that just ain’t going to happen.

So, the political wrangling that has taken place in America has left banking experts warning a complete "failure of the financial system." Now we’re not City whiz kids, but that doesn’t sound good. With many Republicans ideologically in favour of free markets, no bailouts for losers and winner takes all – we’re left wondering who the winner will be.

Aug 01

All Work and No Play

It took me quite a few years to figure this out, but pursuing one’s hobbies or dreams outside the workplace is hugely important. It’s important to one’s health and well-being. It’s important to one’s psyche. And, yes, it’s even important to one’s individual "brand."

For me, it’s all about stand-up comedy, climbing and, now, swimming. To Deb Brown, it’s all about ice hockey. To Kelly Walton and Beth Starkin, it’s about singing and acting, respectively. And, to Michael ‘Mickey’ Cowdroy, it’s all about playing bass guitar in a rapidly-rising rock band.

By day, Mickey is a meek, mild member of Peppercom UK’s crackerjack staff. But, by night, he’s riffing along with his two band mates in what seems to be a very hot pop/rock ensemble.Sts9old

Mickey tells me his group finished in the runner-up spot in a recent, nationwide competition (the winning band landed a gig as the opening act for The Police). Now, they’re about to engage in another countrywide battle of the bands.

The odds are obviously stacked against Mickey’s becoming the next Keith Richards. But, as the New York Lotto TV commercials like to remind us, "…..Hey, you never know."

In the meantime, I applaud Mickey, Deb, Kelly, Beth and the many others like them who want more from life. For me, it’s simply a case of better late then never. And, for Mickey, I say, "Rock on!"