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?

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.

 

Aug 28

A disruptive technology for the body

Kangoo will be to Zumba what Amazon was to
Borders: a disruptive technology.

In case you're not familiar with disruptive technology,
the term was first coined by Clayton Christianson, a Harvard professor who
penned the best-selling business book entitled, 'The Innovator's Dilemma'. In
it, he described not only how business models such as Amazon's were disrupting
the status quo, but also what executives could do to ensure their organizations
weren't prone to being Amazoned (I know all this because we publicized the
book. Thank you very much).

At any rate, I know a disruptive technology when I see
one and Kangoo is the real deal. All it lacks is an aggressive marketing
campaign.

Kangoo already possesses a brilliant role model in Mario Godiva.

I've worked with Mario, and one of his top associates,
Eric Daniels (elifestyletraining@gmail.com).
Together, they've completely disrupted my prior training regimen, and the way
in which I think about wellness.

Mario's led Kangoo dance and fitness classes as well as
Kangoo runs with many of my fellow employees at Peppercom. And, Eric's working
with some of my associates on their overall wellness programs.

In my case, I've literally stopped using sneakers to run long
distance. I now do it in Kangoos. And, the training by Mario and Eric provides
a post workout high that rivals the very best laughing gas in the world (I know
my way around the dentist's chair). 

But, here's why Kangoo will disrupt Zumba and other FOD's
(fads of the day). Kangoo was originally designed to help people recover from
back and knee injuries. The rebounding/running boots reduce 80 percent of the
pressure on one's knees and lower back while simultaneously engaging the core. Kangoo

It's an amazing balancing act that has captivated kids
from eight to 80. I say again, kids from eight to 80.

Kangoo is both intense and a blast. And, unlike Zumba,
there's no post workout joint pain. And, there my friends, is the rub. One gets
a high without any residual pain. That's disruptive.

I was running five miles in my Kangoo boots just this
morning. As I rounded a corner, a guy yelled out, 'Hey, isn't that cheating?' I
smiled and said, 'If it is, then I'm the Lance Armstrong of the hood because I
love cheating in my Kangoo boots.'

Try them. You'll like them.

Aug 27

Black October

Today's post is dedicated to Peppercom Co-founder, Edward "Aloysius" Moed.


Peppercom opened Suit_1920sfor business 17 years ago this Friday.
That's when two men, burnt out by the red tape and politics of big agency life
and chomping at the bit to capitalize on a bullish economy, gave the
entrepreneurial life a go.

And, Ed and Steve had a tough slog in the beginning.

The first month was dedicated to creating an
infrastructure, so they set up a checking account, had business cards printed
and did all the other things an embryonic, two-person business needs to do.

The duo's second month was spent on business development.
So, while Steve wined and dined former clients, prospects and the heads of
global agencies (asking the latter for any morsels too small for their
digestive tracts), Ed was smiling and dialing.

Between them, the co-founders set two new business
meetings each and every week of the second month. And, sure as the leaves fall
in an Autumn storm, every single prospect canceled at the 11th hour. Ed called
it Black October. Steve opted for Bleak October. Either way, it was one grim
month to be sure.

Then, in early November, their luck changed like the
seasons (this is starting to sound like a Sinatra song, isn't it?). It began
with a memorable lunch at The Yale Club. They were there with Ben Case, a former
client at Duke University. The entrepreneurs begged Ben to give them his
account. He played hard to get, saying they'd be so focused on building their
own business that they wouldn't pay attention to his. The trio agreed on a
compromise: three free trial months. If Peppercom delivered, Ben would put them
on retainer. They did. And, he did.

Being able to name drop Duke as an existing client worked
wonders with prospects. Soon, Ed and Steve landed two or three more accounts.
And, they never looked back.

Epilogue: I liken entrepreneurship to a roller coaster
ride. In fact, we're helping a client right now to build a new website aimed at
entrepreneurs. I suggested a roller coaster visual. They agreed, and will be
using it as one of their main visuals.

The roller coaster ride came to mind because there are
far more downs than ups in business, and resiliency is critical to an
entrepreneur's success. So is preparation.

That's why I advise any Mark Zuckerberg wanna-be to read
'The Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. It describes the importance of first
logging 10,000 hours of practice before grabbing for the brass ring.

Mozart, the Beatles and Steve Jobs, among others, all put
in countless hours of blood, sweat and tears before they achieved their
success. Ed and I did the same at two prior agencies, where we amassed our
10,000 hours of practice.

As a result, we already knew who would do what and how
we'd differentiate ourselves on day one. It made all the difference in the
world. It also enabled us to survive Black October.

Aug 03

An Uncorporate Image

Guest post by Kendyl Wright – Fellow Peppercommer and "Uncorporate" Senior Account Executive

Kickball

When I moved to NYC in 2006, I had big dreams and expectations of PR greatness. I took a job immediately with one of the world’s biggest PR firm and set out to succeed in the corporate world. Since this blog is about reputations, I will say that this firm had one of the best “corporate” reputations in the public relations industry.

The CEO was responsible for giving Coca-Cola the infamous classic tagline. I should have been in PR heaven. But as my resume will quickly tell you, I was not. I left after six months and moved to a midsize, privately owned firm. I was much happier and felt that this firm fit my work style so much better. But as young New Yorkers often do, I was lured back to a big firm almost 3 years later by the client list, the promise of more money and the appeal of running some of PR’s biggest launch events. About 2 weeks in, it clicked. I am UNCORPORATE. 

It would take me 2 more years, another job and a 5 month sabbatical to land at Peppercom. When my friend Rebecca asked to submit my resume, I hesitated. “I don’t want to work at a PR firm. I hate everything about them,” I told her time and time again. After a little convincing on her part, (and a lot on my parents’ part…where I had been “temporarily” crashing during my time off) I decided to take a job at Peppercom. 

We talk about image crises a lot in the PR world, but we rarely talk about the culture image of our own firms. Based on my experiences, and those of various friends and colleagues within the industry, corporate life inside the walls of most PR firms is less than encouraging.

In an industry centered around communication and creativity, there’s little brainstorming, less collaboration and not a whole lot of fun. I have friends that work at agencies big & small all over the country and they have countless horror stories of account management, career support and day-to-day lifestyle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m just over PR. There’s nothing I like about going to work.” It makes me sad that our industry is so corporate and cold. Why is it that we consistently hear about the creative and inspiring cultures at ad agencies, but PR environments are structured more like banks and law firms?  

Two days after I started at Peppercom, the agency hosted our annual “Uncorporate Challenge,” a fun run followed by a happy hour. The slogan of this challenge is “Peppercom – Keeping it Uncorporate since 1995.” Over the next few weeks, those knots in my stomach about working for another PR firm started to subside – I knew I had found a home. And while the out of work activities we have here are definitely fun, it’s my day to day uncorporate experience that has helped me embrace PR again.

Over the past year, I have learned that just because you have the big client names doesn’t mean you have the best job. I’ve learned that working at a place that values the individual and encourages them to flourish as they are is a wonderful and amazing thing. I’ve learned what it means to have a team, in every sense of the word. What it’s like to collaborate and trust those team members and be proud of the work you accomplished together. There’s very little individual blame at Peppercom, and for an industry that seems to always pass the buck, that’s pretty incredible.

I’ve learned that there are managers who listen to you and encourage growth in the areas you are passionate about. I’ve learned that it is possible for the most senior people at a company to know your name and actually care about what happens to you as an individual. But most of all, I’ve learned what it’s like to love coming to work each day. I do better work, I’m a better person and most of all, I don’t miss “corporate” life at all. 

Feb 15

CFOs LOL?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer and RepChatter co-host, Deb Brown.

CFOs and a sense of humor? Seems like an oxymoron, right? Our CFO at Peppercom has a great sense of humor, but, in general, I don’t equate CFOs with a sense of humor. So, imagine how surprised – and pleased – I was to find out that 79 percent of 1400 CFOs surveyed said “an employee’s sense of humor is important for fitting into the company’s corporate culture.”

This is GREAT news because if CFOs can understand the importance of a sense of humor in the workplace, then, ideally, the rest of the C-suite should as well.

This is especially important because a company’s culture always starts from the top…whether it’s fun or fearful. For example, at Peppercom, we have a fun, collegial culture that incorporates comedy because the co-founders of Peppercom set that tone. A client we had in the past worked for a CEO who was the definition of hell. She set the tone of fear throughout the organization so that the only choice employees had was to flee. And, so they did, until she was finally given the boot by the board (since they were pretty much the only ones left).

However, when we’ve conducted Comedy Experience sessions, attendees have asked if they could influence and change the culture in a division if they don’t have influence over the entire company. The answer: absolutely. If you’re a manager, you have control over setting the tone of the work environment for your direct reports. And, a positive work environment in one division can start spreading to others. Employees will talk and that could, potentially, influence other managers.

It seems counter-intuitive for bean counters to appreciate a sense of humor. I would like to borrow Stephen Colbert’s “Tip of the Hat” and tip mine to the 79 percent of CFOs for acknowledging the importance of humor. Now, if we can only get the other 21 percent to at least smile.

What do you think your CFO and C-suite think of humor in the workplace? Were you surprised by this survey?

Feb 13

Novartis needs to listen harder

Groupthink

Hats off to Sheldon Jones, head of corporate communications at Novartis, and his boss, CEO Joe Jimenez.

As Jones writes in an informative PR Week Op-Ed, Jimenez recently challenged him to 'enhance the corporation's reputation in its significant markets.'

Jones responded by creating '…the Novartis Reputation Advisory Council, a board of outside members, experts in corporate reputation, healthcare policy, public affairs and CSR from Europe, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.'

NRAC provides guidance on everything from social media engagement and global perspective to telling the organization's story in emerging countries and delivering on their core values.

The advisory board is a great idea, but it suffers from two fundamental flaws:

– The group think that permeates any and all focus groups. Having created and helped managed other advisory councils, I can tell you the meetings are almost always dominated by the most outgoing personalities. As a result, some very real and critical POV's may never surface.

– While they provide a critical external perspective as Mr. Jones points out, advisory councils are populated by incredibly, talented and successful executives. They do NOT reflect the multiple constituent audiences with whom Novartis MUST engage in the most authentic and transparent ways possible.

For these reasons and others, we've created an offering called Audience Experience. We've partnered with an audience advocate, journalist and customer service consultant named Emily Yellin. Under Emily's aegis, we essentially put ourselves in our client's audiences' shoes and experience the product, service or organization in real time, the way an employee, customer, regulator or any other constituent might.

And, we do so online, offline and every other way in which an audience may interact with an organization.

We then compare and contrast those real-world experiences with the brand promises being communicated by the organization's marketing, advertising and PR programs. Sometimes, the gaps are subtle, but have profound effects; others are wide enough for a Mack truck to plow through. The end result, though, is a better alignment of what's being communicated vs. what an audience or multiple audiences actually experience. And, that in turn, enhances trust and reputation.

Jones and Novartis are to be congratulated for taking an outside-in approach to reputation management. But, they can elevate their efforts and fine-tune their results even more by taking the time to walk in their multiple constituents' shoes. As the Chinese proverb advises us: the longest journey begins with a single step."

                                                  # # #

Feb 08

Culture check

Happy days are here again. Or, so it would seem according to the latest jobs and unemployment news. The economy added nearly a quarter of a million new jobs and unemployment levels dipped to 8.3 percent.

I know lots of small and midsized PR firms are hiring, but I doubt the big guys are (as I noted in last week's blog).

We're looking to fill any number of slots in financial services, social media and general PR. But, as our culture has evolved, we're being extra careful to make sure we don't:

– Make an offer to the social media prima donna who, no matter how gifted, believes she is the only one who understands the medium and refuses to play nice with others.
– Hire that really nice guy who seems to be everyone's best friend, constantly pats you on the back, praises everyone and everything, but ends up contributing next to nothing to the work product.
– Employ an erstwhile holding company middle manager who, halfway through her first week, storms into our president's office and demands to know where the research department is located (er, ah, you are the research department).

I undertake my own culture check with prospective senior level hires. By the time they get to me (and are about to be interviewed by Ed), I know their work ethic and accomplishments have been fully vetted. So, rather than ask the asinine, 'Where do you see yourself in five years' or 'How would others describe your management style' questions I probe, instead, to see how seriously they take themselves.

Cultural-fit

We have a very informal culture that is driven by our insistence that every employee be trained in stand-up comedy. We don't do it to torture them but, rather, to help them improve their presentation and listening skills as well as enhance overall morale. And, it's worked so well that we now provide it as a service offering to clients.

But, back to my culture check. As I'm wrapping up my interview, I'll lean forward and suggest a few tips that will help the candidate with her upcoming interview with Ed. These include:

– Alerting the candidate that, since Ed has lost all of his hearing in his left ear, they'd be wise to sit on his right side and shout their questions and answers.
– Alerting the candidate that Ed worked his way through college as a professional foot model and, if it's summer and Ed's rocking a pair of mandals, they should be sure to compliment his shapely ankles.
– Alerting the candidate that Ed means it when he says he expects our senior executives to roll up their sleeves and do many of the same tasks performed by junior staff. I mention that Ed's incredible work ethic is a direct result of having labored as a coal miner in West Virginia for several years. That one almost always elicits the following response. 'Really? That is so inspirational.'

Anyway, the candidates are quickly told by Ed that they've been set up by me and shouldn't take anything I say seriously. We can often judge how well a candidate will fit in by their reaction to our playfulness. Most take it in stride. Some don't care for it. But, a few get a huge kick out of it and, if everything else is equal, the latter person will be offered the job.

So, what's your firm's culture check? How do you determine if a prospect will fit in? And, for those of you on the job search circuit as we speak, what sort of culture checks have you been subjected to? I'm always looking for fresh material.

Sep 06

Remember Me and You (Part II)

It was 16 years ago yesterday that I washed up at the front door of Ed Moed’s squalid, one bedroom apartment and we began building what was to become one of the nation’s top independent strategic communications firms.

To mark what is a very, very Sweet 16th anniversary, I thought I’d create a two-part blog (Part I ran yesterday) that captures the 16 events (good, bad and otherwise) that are permanently seared on my brain. Note: I suggest you listen to Rebelution’s “More Than Ever” as you pour over the remembrances. Written as a love song, it works equally well in a business context.

Here, then, are the second set of memories from our first 16 years:

9.) The dotcom crash brings the PR world to a complete standstill. We lose one $35k per month account on eight successive days, prompting Ted Birkhahn to ask me, “Steve, what’s going to happen to us?”

9A.) Ed’s very own dotcom, PartnershipCentral, goes belly-up and we lay off 26 hapless employees.

10.) 9/11. Ed and Ted are in Houston. I’m in Manhattan. Chaos reigns for a few days. Ed and I hold a staff meeting the following Monday telling employees we have no idea what the future holds for us, our industry or our country (note: phone and e-mail traffic literally died for two weeks because no one was sure if PR was ‘still appropriate under the circumstances’).

11.) Peppercom rebounds from the dotcom crash and post 9/11 blues and is hired to publicize GE’s ‘Imagination at work’ campaign. Nonetheless, Alex Constantinople, our client contact, refuses to let Ed or me meet with GE’s CEO, telling us we weren’t ‘Jeff ImmeltWorthy’.
11A.) Chris ‘Repman, Jr.’ Cody and Catharine ‘Goose’ Cody do stints as Peppercom interns. The experience convinces them they have no interest whatsoever in following in their dad’s footsteps. Nice.

12.) A Northeastern University intern twice flips Ed the bird at a holiday party, ensuring her simultaneous demise and immortality in Peppercom folklore.

13.) To test my theory that Ed is ADD to the max, I arrange for his couch to be moved to my office, and vice versa. We then hold an office pool to guess whether he’ll spot the switcheroo in a day, week or month. After a month, we begin switching my family photos with his. Then, we trade artwork from his wall to mine. Finally, three months later, we hear a loud, ‘WTF!’

14.) Peppercom wins the triple crown of industry awards in 2006, being named agency of the year by PR Week and PR News and ‘most innovative’ by The Holmes Report.

14A.) Fifteen months after hiring us but refusing to allow us to announce the win, Yahoo announces our termination in a PR Week front-page article. Classy.

15.) Dawn M. Lauer and Darryl Salerno debate the existence of god in what would become the most incendiary podcast in Repchatter’s six-year history.

16.) Peppercom’s one-of-a-kind stand-up comedy training program is featured on MSNBC, WNBC, Ad Age, the Council of PR Firms ‘Forum’ and Inc. Magazine. It’s now become a service offering that, after 16 years, enables us to say we’re now literally laughing all the way to the bank.

These are my 16 most memorable moments. But, quite a few Repman readers are current and former employees, as well as clients, former clients and friends. I’d love to know if you have a particular memory of Peppercom that you’d be willing to share. I know I’d appreciate it. And, I think Ed will too (as soon as he moves his couch back into his office).