Oct 17

Rudderless in a perfect storm

Much has already been written about Harvey Weinstein’s decision to retain the service of Sitrick and Company, one of the best-known crisis firms in the country.

Most of the rhetoric has either excoriated Sitrick for defending such a heinous client who continues to see one starlet after another come forward with new accusations of rape. Others defend Sitrick arguing that, as is the case in our jurisprudence system, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and deserving of counsel.

Few, if any, have weighed in on what I have to believe are the toxic effects of Sitrick’s decision on the average Sitrick employee.

It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of such controversial clients as Big Tobacco and quasi-dictatorships, but the Weinstein crisis strikes at the very root of our nation’s latest flashpoint: sexual harassment. I wonder how female employees of Sitrick explain to their family and friends how they can work for an organization that is defending such an alleged serial predator. That can’t be a fun discussion.

And while Sitrick has a long-standing record of defending controversial clients, this could prove to be their Waterloo. Just look at what happened to Bell Pottinger, a leading U.K. public relations consultancy. They found out the hard way that defending the wrong client at the wrong time can not only destroy employee morale, but actually put the firm out of business.

I believe Sitrick chose to defend Weinstein because the firm lacks a clear purpose (Note: a purpose may be defined as why an organization exists, why its employees show up to work every day and what higher purpose does the company serve). In other words, the firm is rudderless.

I recently co-authored a blog with Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society in which we said: “An overwhelming number of employed adults expect their organizations to speak up in times of crisis. But doing so should be guided by the corporate character (or purpose, if you will). A purpose should serve as a company’s ethical and moral company, and guide a CEO’s decisions and actions.”

Lacking purpose, Sitrick chose profits over people (and principles) and, I believe, will pay a very heavy price.

After word: I did some quick sleuthing to see if some of the best PR firms in the business do, in fact, have a clear purpose. They do. Two of the best came from:

  • Edelman: “….We drive powerful connections between companies and the greater good. In other words, we help marry profits and purpose…”
  • Weber-Shandwick: “….We’re energized by the ways our diverse global network of employees apply their passion and ideas in partnership with clients around the world to contribute to a brighter future.”

I’d like to believe that neither Richard Edelman nor Andy Polansky, CEOs of Edelman and Weber, respectively, would even entertain the notion of representing Harvey Weinstein since their purpose would guide them to do the exact opposite.

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 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.

Feb 17

MICK MOUNTS MILLION DOG MARCH AGAINST MITT

Also Wails About 'Wimpification' of Canines 

image from www.repmanblog.com

LINCROFT, NJ - February 17, 2012 - Outspoken former U.S. Congressdog Mick Cody today announced he'd be leading a million dog march to undermine Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's chances in the upcoming Michigan primary.

The controversial canine says it's high time canines shine the spotlight on what he called Romney's '…heinous treatment…' of the family dog, Seamus, in 1983.

'We'll begin the march (or trot, walk, run, or canter. Take your pick.) from every corner of this great country of ours,' said the peeved pit bull, who was forced to resign from office last year after being caught texting a topless photograph of himself to a cat.

'Voters need to know that Mitt Romney deliberately strapped his dog, Seamus, to the top of his car during a long drive to Canada. I think it's the Beltway equivalent of Michael Vick's training pit bulls to fight to the death.'

Cody said the one million dogs plan to converge on Detroit in early March. Once there, he promised the dogs will run in packs along the highways, and up and down every street tearing down Romney campaign posters, defecating on them, or both. 'We'll also be lifting our legs outside every Romney campaign office in the state,' he sniffed.

The outspoken pooch says he believes dogs can, and will, cost Romney the Republican candidacy. 'People love dogs, and once more of them know what happened to poor Seamus, they'll shift their votes to a more animal-friendly candidate. Not that Newt, Rick or Ron look very friendly, mind you,' panted Mick, as he returned from a brisk four-mile walk of his own.

WIMPIFICATION OF DOGS

Cody also railed at what he called the liberal Hollywood establishment's 'wimpification of dogs.' Standing on his hind legs and activating the remote control of the Cody Family DVD, the dog showed a gathering of reporters a popular Youtube video he called, 'demeaning and degrading to all canines, no matter their breed.' 

'My master is sick and tired of Hollywood's portrayal of all men as stupid. I'm equally upset at their marginalizing all dogs by showing one weakling who happens to be scared silly of cats. The liberal elite are ruining this country,' he howled.

Readers will recall that Mick Cody first rose to prominence when he organized a march of some 100,000 dogs in protest of Michael Vick's abuse of pit bulls. Buoyed by massive national publicity, Cody then became the first dog ever elected to Congress. He later resigned in disgrace because of the sexting scandal, an incident Mick still insists was nothing more than entrapment.

# # # 

Shout out and thanks to Syd Steinhardt who sparked the idea for this post.

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 14

Commoditizing a commodity with comedy

Sheep_herd

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's a poor substitute for strategy. Take the insurance industry, please!

Geico broke out from the pack long ago with a hip and irreverent campaign that alternated between the gecko and the sad sack caveman. Aflac followed suit with its duck and Progressive wasn't far behind with Flo. Next came State Farm and Allstate.

All of a sudden, a commoditized industry was commoditizing itself again with lookalike, soundalike commercials.

To test my theory that, when everyone says the same thing no one says anything, I asked 10 friends to name their favorite insurance commercial. Nine selected 'mayhem', but only four could correctly identify the advertiser: Allstate.

The pack mentality works well in the wild, when strength in numbers is needed for defense. But, it fails miserably in marketing where a distinct positioning and point of view is critical.

I experienced the pack mentality first-hand, back in the dotcom days. We were being paid $35,000 per month to launch an interactive web designer. When we presented a suggested positioning, the CEO hit the roof. "I don't want to be different. I want the market to see us, and price us, just like Sapient and Scient (two white hot IPOs of the day)." We disagreed, and we're soon shown the door.

Needless to say, the 'me too' dotcom failed. And, while these major insurance companies won't fail, their campaigns will. And the CMOs will soon be looking for new jobs.

Talk about mayhem!

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 09

The kiss of death

Reference checks are a joke. You know it and so do I.

BurningBridges

The average job seeker provides the names of three former associates who not only wax poetic about her multiple talents but volunteer that, given the opportunity, she'd be able to transform water into wine and walk on water as well.

That's why the best firms go beyond the references provided, dig deep into an applicant's past and make inquiries among friends and associates with whom the candidate worked.

This just happened with two former Peppercom employees. Both were finalists for significant positions and both had undoubtedly provided the requisite three references who sang their praises. But, two diligent individuals, one another agency owner and the other a smart recruiter (now, there's an oxymoron for you), called me directly.

The first asked me about Jane Doe. I was startled, and asked my fellow CEO if Ms. Doe had given my name as a reference. 'Nah,' he said. 'But, I know she worked for you and wanted to know the real scoop.'

In the second instance, the recruiter had really done some digging. She called me and prefaced her question by stating, 'John Smith is being seriously considered for a very senior position at Widebottom, Top Heavy & Partners. As you know, he was director of PR at Artery Clogging International when Peppercom was the agency of record. So, what can you tell me about John?'

And, that dear reader, is when I used the code words that every senior PR executive and recruiter recognize as the kiss of death. I responded by saying, 'All I can tell you is that Jane worked at Peppercom for three years.' Or, in John's case, I stated, 'All I can do is confirm that he was, indeed, our client for 18 months.'

Invariably, those comments are first met with deafening silence and then a sigh. 'That's what I suspected,' the CEO replied, 'I knew something wasn't right.' And the recruiter said, 'You're the second person I've called who wasn't provided as a reference and used those very same words. That's all I needed to know.'

I've been schooled to never, ever denigrate a former employee or client. But, if another professional calls and tells me they're about to hire someone who was either a washout as an employee or an abusive, anti-Christ of a client, I'll confirm the dates of our mutual association and offer nothing else. That's code that every other professional immediately cracks. It means, 'Stay away. This person is positively toxic.' In effect, it's the kiss of death in PR.

Public relations remains a very small industry where everyone knows everyone else. So, it's wise to never, ever burn bridges with an employer or abuse the agency if you're on the client side. Because, sure as rain, someone, some day will call the head of that agency and say, 'So, we've got Lisa Farthing-Penny-Farthing in our reception area and are thinking of making her an offer on the spot. Figured I'd do one last check with someone whose name she didn't provide. What can you tell me about her time at Peppercom?'