Dec 13

Great pick-up lines

William-steig-hello-cutie-pie--ccccnew-yorker-cartoonJust the other day, we were wrapping up a new business presentation when the prospect looked me in the eyes and said, “So, tell me why we should hire your firm.”

Now, in the early days when Peppercom was chasing anything that wasn't nailed down, I might have responded with any one of the following retorts:

– “Well, I believe we've demonstrated the right mix of strategy, creativity, responsiveness and results needed to take you to the next level.”

or…

– “Well, I think we've shown a real passion for your business today and presented a team that has been through the wars together. I know we'd hit the ground running on day one.”

or…

– “Well, I don't think you'll find another firm with the depth of category expertise reflected by the team you're meeting with today. I'll bet that, collectively, we have more than 150 years of experience in helping brands looking to attract toe fungus sufferers.”

But, that was then and this is now.

The older I get, the more I've grasped the amazing similarities between courtship and new business development. And, that goes for both prospective and existing clients (I'll address the latter in a nanosecond).

So, getting back to the most recent prospect's query, I sighed and said, “I'm not sure you SHOULD hire us. Asking us a question like that after we've demonstrated our experience, thinking and passion tells me you're looking for a vendor and not a partner. If I'm wrong, we'd be delighted to continue the conversation.”

That line always stops a prospect in her tracks (by either pissing her off completely or impressing her in ways no other firm has). I've found it's also a great way to pre-qualify a prospect and see if they really ARE looking for a relationship as opposed to just another order-taker.

Getting back to using what I'd call a great pick-up line with clients, I've found over the years that clients HATE being fired. They hate hearing the 'It's not you, it's us' line and immediately promise to behave better, pay their bills faster and lighten up on the over-servicing demands.

In today's economy, it's a dicey proposition to suggest PR firms play hard to get with prospects and clients.

But, trust me, it works just as well in business as it does in dating.

'So, I have to tell you I love your eyes. Do you come here often?'

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.

Dec 02

We just got religion

As a proud alumnus of Hill & Knowlton, I was interested (and then disheartened) to read of the firm’s name change. Effective immediately, Hill & Knowlton is now Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Wow! Talk about cataclysmic news. I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite the same. Adding the word strategies is, well, really strategic, but opting for a plus sign instead of an ampersand is, as my Japanese clients at Sony used to say, truly epoch-making.Hihihihi

Ken Luce, global COO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, said, “Clients have caught up to the fact that PR and marketing communications are strategic, and not just about press releases anymore.” The name change, says Luce, emphasizes the firm’s position in strategic communications and increased investment in digital and research. Oh.

This might have been a fairly significant announcement back in, say, 1998. But, to suddenly wake up and insert the word strategies in 2011 is akin to Rip Van Winkle’s snoozing for 20 years.

One of our clients pinpointed the name change problem. He said that, from a typical client's perspective, strategy is already assumed. If a big agency couldn't provide it, who in the world would be working with them in 2011?  He likened the announcement to H+K’s saying: "We just got religion!"

Strategic counseling is table stakes for any public relations firm today. To call attention to the fact that they’ve finally decided to alert the world to their strategic thinking tells me Hill+Knowlton Strategies hasn’t been doing much strategic thinking about its own brand.  But, that’s nothing new. I was at the firm when it underwent its very first name change in the early 1980s. That, too, was heralded with similar fanfare. And, the change was just as startling. The corporate color was switched from blue to brown and the word ‘and’ was replaced with the now equally defunct ampersand.

At this rate, I’m predicting in another 10 years or so, we’ll be reading about the firm’s next, big name change. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing (drum roll, please):

Hill-Knowlton 2.0 

And, the global COO at the time will be quoted as saying, “Clients have caught up to the fact that PR and marketing communications firms can now handle social media, and aren’t just about strategy anymore.”

Nov 16

You get what you pay for

Banksy_Because_I_039_m_Worthless_Graffiti_street_art__1301348475_07Not too long ago, we received a cover note entitled, 'Motivated ABC College Grad will intern for free!'

Sadly, the subject line killed the applicant's chances from the get go. Here's why:

– We value our services and would NEVER offer to give away our time (unless it involved a charity or, as is often the case, we're Beta testing a new service offering). If you want Peppercom's brain power, you'll have to pay for it.

– Telling me you'll work for free immediately makes you a commodity in my mind. If you're as motivated as your subject line would indicate, you would place a monetary value on your intellect, energy and credentials.

– Finally, the exclamation point you added after the word 'free' makes me envision a going-out-of-business sign that reads: 'Closing immediately. All items MUST go!' In other words, you sound desperate.

Crafting a cover note to a prospective employer is no easy task. And, I sympathize with this particular graduate's dilemma. He's doing everything possible to differentiate himself from the tens of thousands of other applicants applying for the few available jobs.

But, I'm a firm believer in the expression, 'You get what you pay for'. We've experienced this truism in the past whenever we paid a lower rate for a particular individual, vendor or partner. The quality simply wasn't what a higher-priced competitor would have provided.

One other note on this note. The applicant's subsequent text reinforced my first impression. He used such phrases as:

– 'I have exceptional analytical and listening skills, and an eidetic memory, allowing me (to) think quickly, learn quicker and always get it right the first time.' (Note: is an eidetic memory contagious? It sounds scary).
– 'My previous successes were only achieved because I see opportunities in all impossibilities.' (Note: Do you think George W. Bush was his ghost writer?).

So, college grads, DO NOT cheapen what you bring to the plate. Value it. And, don't work for any organization that won't pay you. You're better than that. And, trust me, if you're as good as you think you are, you WILL find a great, paying gig. My eidetic memory tells me so.

This post can also be found on PRiscope, Peppercom’s blog geared towards the next generation of public relations professionals.

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.

 

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 24

Do You Truly Want to Be a Leader? Listen to What’s Happening in Pop Culture

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Sam Ford

For marketers and communicators, especially those working at agencies, staying on top of what's truly shaping communication is vital. But, as an industry, we've never really been all that good at it. Sure, we can see trends happening once they are prevalent and react to them. But it's been tough for agencies to truly innovate and drive our clients toward where they should be headed.

 Foent
Even if you prioritize constantly challenging the way you think, it's hard to figure out how to do that. At Peppercom, we put a great deal of emphasis behind challenging our own status quo: from our internal Innovation Mill launched by Peppercommer Lauren Begley–which highlights the latest innovations and experiments in the marketing space that we might learn from as an agency–to collaborating with new partners and making hires from outside the public relations space. (After all, that's what brought me–now an "in-house" media studies academic–to the firm.)
 
But beyond that, I wanted to share a bit of advice I've learned over the years as to the best way to stay on top of what's happening in the world: keep up with what's happening in culture. That's the gist of Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer: that marketers who pay little attention to the world around them will both miss out on business opportunities and find themselves at risk.
 
I'll take that one step further and say that PR, advertising, corporate communication and marketing pros who want to truly stay abreast of what's happening and what's coming need to watch the entertainment space.
 
For the past several years, I've been fortunate to help organize an annual conference called the Futures of Entertainment. The event brings together media industries practitioners, marketers, and media scholars to talk about what's happening in the entertainment world. And, through my years of research, I've often found that new modes of engagement, developments and challenges that eventually affect companies and governments have, in some ways, often been "previewed," in a way, among media audiences over the years.
 
After all, many of the ways citizens today talk about the news, rally the government, or petition companies–particularly through online communication–was once considered the strange and marginalized space of "the fan" or "fanatic," people who had nothing better to do with their time than to become obsessed with what they watch, create media that responds to it, share media amongst each other, etc.
 
Each year, I look at the issues that end up getting planned for the conference as a barometer of the things I should be keeping in mind and the issues I should be thinking about how to bring to bear on our agency and our clients. And I'm especially proud this year that Peppercom's events division, Peppercommotions, is helping plan the conference.
 
To Repman readers, whether you work for an agency or "in-house," I highly recommend you come up and join us at MIT Nov. 11-12 to talk about pressing issues like "spreadable media," crowdsourcing, location-based technologies, audience/producer collaboration, and privacy issues. In particular, we'll look at the innovations taking place in journalism & documentary filmmaking, music, serialized storytelling, and children's media. And I promise there will be many implications to come from these issues in the marketing world. Rather than waiting for them to happen and playing catch-up, I hope you'll consider joining us.
 
More information on the conference is available here: http://convergenceculture.org/futuresofentertainment/2011/
 
Grant McCracken's book referenced is here: http://www.amazon.com/Chief-Culture-Officer-Breathing-Corporation/dp/0465018327

Oct 11

Drowning in data

The following is the first in a two-part series analyzing a first-of-its-kind study of 1,700 chief marketing officers from 64 countries and 19 industries by the IBM institute for Business Value. I'd like to thank IBM for providing this blogger with access to the study's lead researcher, Carolyn Heller Baird.

ManDrowningInData A global study of 1,700 chief marketing officers in 64 countries shows the majority share one common trait: they're drowning in a sea of data.

Conducted by the IBM Institute of Business, the CMO survey confirms that while marketers know data holds the key to customer insights, some 80 percent still rely on such traditional sources of information as market research, while an astounding 68 depend on sales campaign analysis to make their strategic decisions. Ugh. Talk about yesterday's news!

The 'marketer as Luddite' findings come at a time when the lifespan of the average CMO varies from between three and four years (less than any other member of the C-suite). And, to add even more stress to an already tenuous existence, IBM says CMOs and their bosses, CEOs, both identified “getting closer to the customer” as one of three key prerequisites to success in the 21st century. So, if the CMO knows her boss wants to get closer to the customer, but she's still living in the past when it comes to embracing ways in which to do so, it might be time to update the old resume.

Carolyn Heller Baird, IBM's lead CRM researcher and director of the global study, says CMOs ‘get’ that they have to do a MUCH better job interpreting all the data, but still cling to “…tracking markets and not individuals, and transactions rather than relationships.”

Why? Because finding the best new analytical tools is easier said than done, says Baird. “For one thing, CMOs are incredibly time pressed. For another, they're limited by budget and, in some cases, culture. So, change can't happen overnight.”

Where change IS happening, though, it's producing dramatic results. IBM featured Kraft Foods' Oreo Cookie as a case in point. Kraft had been struggling to take a bite out of the vast consumer pocketbook in the world's largest market for nearly 20 years. Then, finally, after LISTENING and ENGAGING with living, breathing human beings and not relying on data, Oreo struck gold (or cream, if you prefer). They made the cookie smaller and less sweet-tasting. Sales have since skyrocketed by more than 80 percent and in-store sales in some regions have more than tripled. Man, that's a whole lot of cookies!

To duplicate Kraft's success, says Baird, CMOs need to foster greater collaboration across the enterprise, especially with the chief information officer. They also need to build a staff with new and different skill sets all aimed at understanding the critical emotional connection a product, brand or organization must build with a customer.

Last, but not least, the best CMOs need to leave their ivory towers and personally walk the walk. “Look at your organization through your customers' eyes, as they progress through the full relationship cycle. Be a customer. Drop in on stores and sites. Go to your call centers and sit with randomly selected customer representatives. (Ask yourself) how easily can customers interact with your organization – before, during and after the sale?” says Baird. The best CMOs know the only true key to success is listening to individual customer wants and needs.

As Repman readers know, that's what I've been preaching for at least the past year. My awakening came after I suddenly woke up one day and realized I'd never experienced my own brand. Then, after surveying CMOs and PR managers, I found that most had never put themselves in their customers' shoes either. Now, I'm born again and proselytizing to the best of my ability.

Embracing new and dynamic forms of data research and building tighter bonds across the organization are two critical steps a CMO must take. The third, and perhaps most important, is both the easiest and hardest: finding the time to slip into a pair of customer's shoes and as Kraft did with Oreo Cookies in China, living the customer experience first-hand.

For more information about the IBM study, entitled 'From Stretched to Strengthened,' e-mail iibv@us.ibm.com. Tell them Repman sent you.

And, stay tuned for part two of my report on the IBM CMO study. I'll be speaking with Ms. Laird about which industries are leaders and which are laggards, and why.

Oct 06

Experiencing the brand before creating the plan

I had the good fortune yesterday to address an audience of cable industry communications 
managers.

It was a panel discussion whose goal was to identify best practices for client-agency partnerships, understand the fast-changing media relations landscape and predict what's next.

BrandExperience I saw the panel as an opportunity to once again ask the marketing and PR types in the audience if they had ever put themselves in their customers' shoes and experienced the brand from the outside in. About half had done so.

I congratulated those who had and suggested that those who hadn't done so do so immediately.

I've come to believe it's impossible to create an effective communications plan unless you literally walk the walk and experience what your customer experiences.

For a cable industry communications executive, that would mean experiencing, say, The History Channel through each and every one of its online and offline touch points. And, it would mean putting oneself in every constituent audience's shoes.

Then, and only then, would a cable executive be able to craft the precise plan with which to engage in a conversation with each and every audience on THEIR terms. That's critical, because it's all about being where they are. "They" being the customer.

Too many organizations still rely solely on quantitative data to inform their branding and messaging communications. That's not only yesterday's approach, it's taking the easy way out.

Smart communicators are beginning to realize the nuances and insights to be gleaned from experiencing the brand BEFORE creating the plan. It may involve some heavy lifting but, trust me, the pain will be worth the gain. I should know. We put ourselves in our customers' shoes and, while the overall experience wasn't bad, we identified areas for improvement and have  tweaked our communications program accordingly.

If a PR firm can do it, so can a cable company. Or, any company for that matter. The longest journey begins with a single step.

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.