May 21

Spot On

Richard Edelman’s Linkedin essay posits powerful and accurate views on the rapidly emerging role of the chief communications officer AND her/his PR counselors in this new, dark era of school shootings, a president who changes his mind more often than the wind shifts direction in Chicago and the disturbing rise of fake news or, False News, as we board members of The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) prefer to call it.

Peppercomm and the IPR are about to release the results of our third, in-depth series of interviews with 25 Fortune 500 CCOs and a smattering of senior marketing executives who direct crisis response for their organizations.

The vast majority have already created, or are in the process of developing brand new “societal” crisis plans that anticipate future events, develop responses pre-approved by the CEO, CHRO and CLO, and scenario plan the expectations and reactions of a public comment from their CEO by everyone from an activist board member and colossal customer to employees and local communities in which the organization maintains a presence.

The corporate communications function is uniquely qualified (and prepared) to guide the C-Suite through the uncharted waters of a highly-divisive, and hugely uncertain, global environment.

It’s no longer acceptable for CEO’s to mimic an ostrich, listen to a lawyer’s advice or hope that, this, too, shall pass. Just ask Kasper Rorsted, the CEO of Adidas, who badly bungled his responses to Kanye West’s lamentable statements about slavery.

I have huge admiration for our peers in digital, data analytics, advertising and other marketing disciples but we, in PR, have ALWAYS fulfilled the role of the corporation’s conscience.

And, the need for smart, carefully-crafted, ethically and morally responsible commentary has never been more important. No offense intended, but marketing types simply don’t possess the DNA to lead the charge.

It’s a great time to be a strategic PR counselor. And, here’s my version of a Richard Edelman plug: Keep your eyes peeled for sneak previews of our CCO research in the days to come.

Mar 28

A Night at the Museum…

Taylor Shawver and Shannon Thornton, two of Peppercomm’s sure fire leaders of tomorrow, took time out of their busy schedules to pen a guest blog about what the PR workplace experience of the past was like for three pioneering women. A big thank you to Shelley Spector and The Museum of Public Relations for hosting an event that highlighted female pioneers and enlightened the likes of Shannon, Taylor and so many other young PR practitioners…….

To help celebrate Women’s History Month, Peppercomm had the honor of being a sponsor for the second annual PR Women Who Changed History™ event hosted by The Museum of Public Relations.

The event, which occurred on March 1st featured a riveting discussion among three of history’s most important PR pioneers–Barbara Hunter, Muriel Fox, and Saralie Slonsky. The trailblazers put us in their virtual time machine and provided a fascinating glimpse into what life was like in the Mad Men days of the industry versus how life is for women in PR today.

In the 1940s, for example, Muriel Fox applied for a writing job at the legendary Carl Byoir & Associates but was told, “Women aren’t writers here, they’re secretaries.”

Her rejection only fueled her perseverance. She kept after Byoir and was finally hired. Once firmly ensconced, she rose quickly through the ranks, becoming Byoir’s first woman vice president in the early 60’s.

Fox’s story was inspirational, but also one we struggled with in fully comprehending. After all, we work in a female-dominated office, so it’s hard to believe there was ever a time a woman would be told they’re not writers.

Barbara Hunter is another pioneering woman tore down the stereotypes and became the first woman in the United States to run a public relations agency.

In addition to explaining how she established her start-up, this entrepreneur even focused on how she would dress back in the day:  “When I went to work, I would put on my hat, often with a veil, my white gloves, and my high heeled shoes and go into the subway to go to work,” she said. She also remembered how few women there were in the field during this time. Hunter recalled attending PRSA luncheons in which 95 percent or more of the tables were filled by men.

Today nearly three-quarters of all PR pros are women. At universities, the percentage of female public relations majors is even higher. The change is both exhilarating and unsettling. It’s exciting to realize how far we’ve come, but it is also incomprehensible to hear how we could have been so marginalized in the first place. Clearly, as was the case for female executives in all industries 60 years ago, women were simply not perceived as managerial worthy.

Last, and certainly not least, Saralie Slonsky shared her tales from the past. Slonsky has spent close to 30 years as a public relations/communications executive at two of the leading global agencies, Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe (which merged several week ago). As she rose through the ranks, Slonsky honed her skills and developed a specialty in women’s health practice. In fact, she helped launch the first menopause education campaign in the early 1980’s, and worked with the team that partnered with Cancer Care to establish the first National Breast Cancer Awareness Week. Talk about pioneering!

The Museum of Public Relations experience not only opened our eyes to how much has been done by so few, but energized us to pick up the torch and keep moving women’s rights forward in the workplace. As Saralie put it, “What you know and how you do it is what matters now.”

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Mar 27

Sometimes smarter is better than lighter (or stupidity)

Just when I thought yet another tone-deaf advertising agency creative or in-house marketing executive couldn’t possibly produce yet another insensitive, racially-charged TV spot, along comes Heineken to prove me wrong.

If you haven’t seen “Lighter is better” and, odds are you won’t since Heineken yanked it off the air almost immediately, take a gander: Heineken pulls ‘Sometimes lighter is better’ ad after racism claims

Now, take a guess who was morally outraged by the commercial? Bingo! People of color.

Why? Well, because the white bartender in the spot takes careful aim and hurtles a Heineken bottle of beer underneath, around and past bar patrons of color before it reaches its final destination: the hand of an attractive light skinned woman.

These are the types of unexplainable and egregious gaffes that, in 30 seconds, can undo years of community goodwill, corporate social responsibility AND the morale of an entire workforce. Then of course, there will be boycotts from patrons of liquor stores and food markets who will no longer buy Heineken beer at all.

God knows what the eventual impact from a financial and reputational standpoint will be, but I’m betting the internal marketing team was either put on 30-days notice or asked to leave the building faster than a speeding bottle of Heineken.

As far as the ad agency creatives, all I can say is, “Let’s lift a bottle of beer (other than Heineken) in their memory.” The next gig for the entire team will probably be washing dishes in the bar where the commercial was filmed.

Btw, on a related note, I will be joined by JP Laqueur of Brand Foundations on a PRSA webinar at 3pm today to discuss the new types of societal crises facing corporate America (as well as self-inflicted wounds such as Heineken’s).

Here’s the link to today’s webinar: http://apps.prsa.org/Learning/Calendar/display/9155/Reputation_Management_in_a_Polarized_Age#.WrpLY4jwaUn

Dec 19

First we take Manhattan, then we take Dublin

We recently had the opportunity to play host to a colleague from the Emerald Island: Alan Keane. Alan toils away for Plunkett PR, a superb Dublin-based PR firm. 

Since it was his first opportunity to observe American in the midst of becoming great again, I asked Alan to share his observations. Here goes (and Erin Go Brah to you as well)…..

So, Steve has asked to write a guest post on what I learned from my week in New York.

Happy to oblige Steve, and thanks for the opportunity.

The best pizza in the city can be got at Artichoke Basille’s in the East Village, the best dive bar is Desmond’s at 433 Park Avenue, Chelsea Market offers great lunch options, Shake Shack has the best burg…

(Steve: “Uh… Alan… I meant what you learnt about the differences and similarities between PR in New York and Ireland…”

My bad Steve. The above still stands though. Come at me @AlanKeane23 if you disagree.

Ok, let’s get serious.

I came to New York to meet a selection of the best and brightest in New York PR and gain some valuable insights into how the creative industry works in the Big Apple. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

Ireland has a lot going for it creatively. It’s the land of saints and scholars after all, and, to propagate another stereotype, we have the gift of the gab. Irish people could sell sand in the desert, and this is reflected in the talents of our brightest creative minds.

New York however, operates on another level. Outside of the professional realm, Manhattan is so full to the brim of people from every walk of life that to stand out you need to do something very special. Otherwise you just blend into the crowd. Hence the style smorgasbord that is any given street. You could spend the whole day people watching in New York (not in a creepy, Robin Williams in One Hour Photo kind of way either.)

That translates into the creative arena, as New Yorkers are bombarded from every angle with advertisements, content and products. To stand out you have to do something truly special. It’s a potent environment in which to push the boundaries of creativity and from the brief time I spent with the team at Peppercomm it’s an exciting place to be.

Every day is a different challenge in the realms of the creative and communication industries, and it was interesting to note the similarities between Ireland and New York in that regard. Pushing commercial clients to a sceptical and understaffed media, the time and resource black hole that is responding RFPs, and constantly changing parameters of what is demanded from public relations service providers are just some of the issues facing PR practitioners both sides of the Atlantic.

Stateside media relations was something I was really interested in learning more about during my visit. Ireland is such a parochial place, that you tend to be able to keep track of and develop excellent professional relationships with the media if you’re on your game at all. With such a large spread of media in New York and beyond for communications professionals to wrest with, I was curious as to how media relations could be fostered.

It was something I asked of everyone I met in the industry, and the results are in. The answer is (drum roll please), hard work and a human touch. Something as simple as knowing a particular journalist’s likes and dislikes when it comes to communications (phone or email, for example) can make all the difference. Simple, yes, but when you have countless journalists to keep track of, that’s where the hard work comes in.

Finally, on a personal note, I’d just like to say that although Ireland is known as the land of a thousand welcomes, (Cead Mile Failte is a greeting in Irish that literally translates to “a thousand welcomes”) New Yorkers give us a run for our money. The misconception that New York is an unfriendly and cold city seems unfair to me, as everyone I met during my time there went out of their way to be of assistance and make me feel welcome. Thank you to everyone in Peppercomm, particularly Steve, Deb and all the team who made time to talk to me and discuss the industry. Thanks also to the impressive Rob Longert of Day One and Bill Daddi of Daddi Brand Communications whose insights gave me plenty of food for thought returning home.

Happy Holidays folks.

Nov 16

The Data Science Behind the Dating Scene

Today’s guest blog was authored by Jason Baik, Senior Manager on the Analytics team at Peppercomm…

Most people associate “analytics” with simple tables and graphs without really understanding the true power of data. I’m here to break that stereotype.

Before I get into the details, a bit of background is required. My name is Jason, a professional analyst and a true data advocate; I analyze everything from conducting non-hierarchical clustering for my fantasy football drafting to predictive price modeling for my bitcoin gambling. You name it and I probably have a personal spreadsheet of it.

When I was freshly single in the summer of 2016, I decided to follow in the footsteps of journalist Amy Webb and put my love of analytics behind my pursuit of love: data behind my dating life. I started by crafting profiles across various dating apps and meticulously tracked everything, from opening lines and response times to respondent ethnicities and hobbies. I was ready to prove that love was a quantifiable game…

By the twelfth day, I was frustrated by my lack of progress. My response rates were improving but my problem lied in the candidates themselves… the first few dates had been entertaining but no one stood out enough for a second meet. Even worse, there was no apparent correlation between any of my variables and my enjoyment of an experience. As day fifteen rolled around, I decided to add a qualitative layer to the mix. I calculated personality scores based on profile keywords and developed an attraction index. My daily response rate stayed about the same but my enjoyment of the dates soared!

I wanted more. During month two, I decided to increase the stakes by adding what I’ll coin as my radical honesty test. I would ask a series of ‘controversial’ questions throughout the course of conversation and gauge response lag, initial eye movements, and facial reactions. Some of my questions included: 1) number of ex-boyfriends, 2) reasons for termination of latest relationship, 3) current salary level, 4) political views, and 5) criminal history. I hardly cared about the answers as I only met the women who passed my screening process – I already knew they were decent human beings. I was more intrigued by how each would respond in an unorthodox situation.

On the one hand, I got to meet some genuinely amazing women. I soon discovered, though, that regardless of most people’s claims to appreciate ‘honesty’ not many people truly did… or at least not in the way I defined it. Even these highly curated individuals became awkward or disinterested as I asked my questions and some of them blatantly lied. To my dismay, my radical honesty test remained pass-proof…

Lucky for me, my story doesn’t end there. Six months into my amorous adventure, as I was on the cusp of giving up on ‘happily ever after’, I met the most wonderful woman… ironically, outside of online dating. I was at a board game night with high school buddies when a friend of a friend appeared on a whim based on a last-minute invite. To disillusion the romantics, this woman and I barely spoke during game night… but coincidental parking led to the exchanging of numbers and an eventual first date.

During my first meeting with – from here on out, I’ll call her Grace… and I say that facetiously because that’s her actual name – I decided to enact my honesty test but with a twist. Instead of asking my typical questions, I decided to up the ante and start with my own confessions. Unfortunately for me, what started as an attempt to spice up my experiment ended with me telling Grace literally every secret that I housed: every library book I had failed to return on time, every plastic can I had failed to recycle… it was all laid out for her on our (I will stress again) first date.

She, in turn, laughed at most of what I said… and calmly elaborated on her own shameful history. That was ten blissful months ago.

I understand, first hand, that in a world where the client deadlines get cut as often as the budgets, analytics will forever be seen as a mere dashboard or an Excel template. With that said, my best contribution to this wonderful field comes in the form of a friendly reminder: some of life’s greatest answers are derived using analyses. The next time you’re going about your daily routine, even if you aren’t an “analyst”, try putting some data behind a situation. While I can’t promise you a Nobel Prize-winning revelation every time… once in a while you may, like me, make a life-changing discovery.

***

More about Jason:

Jason is a Senior Manager on the Analytics team where he leverages data to solve client problems. Prior to joining Peppercomm, Jason worked at several digital advertising agencies and crafted measurement strategies spanning social, programmatic, search, email, and mobile campaigns. Jason is originally from Princeton, New Jersey and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Northwestern University.

Find Jason on LinkedIn here.

Nov 07

The clock is ticking

Check out this fascinating Advertising Age interview of Facebook marketing guru Andrew Keller. While Keller expounds on any number of topics in the piece, he hones in specifically on the rise of the term “six seconds” in advertising.

While the Facebook executive, and his fellow advertisers, are fixated on six seconds, research shows the average human actually has an attention span of eight whole seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish.

But, the six (or eight) second discussion should extend far beyond Keller’s focus on digital advertising and videos.

Split second responses are table stakes in ALL forms of communications today.

In the new normal of Trump Tweets, fake news and Kevin Spacey/Harvey Weinstein-type transgressions, individuals and organizations have about eight seconds to gather their thoughts and determine:

  • What will they say?
  • Will they say anything at all?
  • What criteria determine whether a response is warranted?
  • Who should make the statement?
  • What channel would make the most sense?

Here are two very quick cases in point. One is a worst practice; the other a best:

  • UnderArmour completely blew the NFL player-kneeling controversy by first Tweeting the firm’s commitment to diversity & inclusiveness. Then, when right-wing customers expressed their disapproval, UnderArmour Tweeted a revised comment that included “..and show respect for our flag.” In doing so, UnderArmour created a whole new news cycle that, ironically, unified outraged right and left-wing followers who agreed on one thing: the brand was speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
  • @POTUS recently attacked General Motors in one of his 3am Tweets. Rather than respond with a Tweet correcting the president’s erroneous charges, Ray Dey, GM’s CCO decided, instead, to share the facts with trusted beat reporters who routinely covered the car company. Once their articles were published, Trump didn’t have a leg to stand on and quickly moved on to attack someone else.

The point is this: While no brand should be expected to respond in eight seconds or less, every organization should prepare now for what cannot be anticipated, and create new protocols for the new normal.

Getting back to digital advertising and marketing content of all types and forms, I completely agree with Keller. Organizations have six (or eight, depending upon the target audience’s attention span) seconds to engage, connect and begin the process of consideration. The day of long-form storytelling is dead.

Split second communications is the currency of the realm, now and for the future.

Oct 25

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 2)

Game 1 of the World Series is in the books, and Dr. Baseball’s prediction is already looking bleak! Check out Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU – where we talk about diversity issues in baseball and sports amid the backdrop of the NFL National Anthem controversy. Plus we talk MLB in South Beach, hitting against the defensive shift, and of course, Steve has to find a way to drop in a Mets question…

Oct 24

Sports as a Part of our Society: Chat with Dr. Baseball (Part 1)

Nothing uplifts a town like their local sports team performing well on the field. We’re seeing that with MLB’s Houston Astros as they face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. How can this help the city heal after suffering a devastating hurricane this past summer? Dr. Wayne McDonnell, Academic Chair of Sports Management at NYU is back in the house and drops knowledge on how sports is woven into the fabric of our society, as well as how data is playing a much larger role in the game today.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our conversation!

Oct 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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