Oct 16

No More Cattle Calls Please!



Today’s Repman guest blog is authored by Deb Brown.

It appears that our industry is rapidly becoming a microcosm of society as a whole. In particular, I’m speaking about civility, or the lack thereof. Case in point: cattle calls.

When we receive a Request for Proposal from an organization, we always vet it, part of which includes how many agencies are in the mix. If the number is more than five, we usually bow out since the chance of winning the account starts to diminish. I’m always surprised when organizations reach out to many agencies. Not only is it unfair to the agencies to have a slim chance of winning, but it has to be tedious for the prospect to read through many proposals and/or sit through many presentations.

Sometimes, we cannot find out the number of agencies in advance. This happened recently when we were invited to participate in an RFP and had to attend an in-person session to ask questions. We found ourselves being one out of 15 agencies in the room. While the opportunity was a good one for us, putting hours of our time into the proposal with a slim chance of winning didn’t make sense.

Prospects should do their due diligence and choose no more than five agencies. Or, if they want to start with a larger pool, conduct a 30-minute call with each agency and then, based on the conversations, whittle it down to no more than five. It shows respect to the agencies and it makes it more manageable for the prospect. Having a “cattle call” frustrates agencies and, ironically, the agencies that may be best suited for the account may drop out.

A cattle call happens to be just one example of lack of respect for an agency’s time and hard work. Another is never responding to the agency after the agency submits a proposal. Four years ago, we submitted a very thoughtful and strategic proposal to a company looking for a communications partner. We are still waiting to hear. And, sadly, that company is not the only one that hasn’t responded over the years. A “Dear Agency” letter is another demonstration of lack of respect for an agency’s hard work. Personalizing a letter and providing feedback on why an agency wasn’t chosen would be very much appreciated.

These issues are very easy to fix, but sadly continue. Perhaps “business civility” should be taught in schools of communications and MBA programs. If future executives don’t learn the ropes there, where (and when) will they ever grasp the adverse impact on their own image and reputation if they continue to treat agencies like cattle?

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.

Dec 14

Third party endorsement

Lemmings2PR has always been more credible than advertising because, when practiced properly, our end result produces a balanced article from a trusted third party (i.e. a reputable journalist).

Yet, according to a survey from LinkedIn, job seekers continue to use advertising hype instead
of PR strategies in trying to differentiate themselves and find employment.
 
In fact, the five most overused words in LinkedIn profiles (and the resumes I've read) are:
 - creative
 - extensive experience
 - innovative
 - motivated
 - communications skills
 
So, what's wrong with using such superb descriptors? Everyone else does. As a result, you won't stand out. Wave bye-bye.
 
I'm amazed more PR professionals and recent graduates aren't using their PR skills to produce an objective LinkedIn profile or resume replete with third party endorsements instead of first person chest-thumping.
 
So, let's say you've worked at Peppercom, have grown weary of Ed and are seeking greener pastures. If you've interned for us, your resume shouldn't boast about being a '…effective, problem-solver with a proven track record.' Instead, it should include a quote from our intern manager, Kristin Davie, along the lines of “I've managed many interns, but Ishmael would be at the top of my list.”
 
Or, let's say you're a Peppercom management supervisor who can simply no longer stomach Ted's political correctness.  Instead of jotting down, “I love people and work incredibly well with teams at all levels,” ask the evangelical one for an endorsement. We appreciate employees who come to us in advance, tell us it's not working out for them and ask for time to find a new gig while we, in turn, are given the heads-up to begin searching for a replacement.

I don't blame PR professionals or students for using an advertising approach to finding jobs in public relations. I point the finger, instead, at executive search consultants, human resource managers and academics for continuing to endorse an obviously broken model (i.e. the one-page resume that starts with objectives, provides a brief summary of work experience and ends with those dreaded words, 'references furnished upon request').
 
Public relations today is all about engaging in the conversation, and applying the 5Ws to develop your story. I'd use that exact, same approach if I were job-seeking today. I'd craft my profile or resume by answering the following:
 
 - Who are you approaching? (Find out as much as you can about the individual or the organization in advance)
 - Why you are qualified (told by the most credible source(s) possible, your former employer)
 - What you bring to the plate (see above)
 - Where you've made a significant contribution (see above)
 - When you're ready to begin work (yesterday)
 
It's ironic that professionals who work in an industry that's always differentiated itself by leveraging the power of third party endorsement almost never use it to market themselves.

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