Sep 14

If lawyers can be outsourced, is PR next?

BusinessWeek has a fascinating report on DuPont’s move to outsource millions of legal documents and services to an offshoring company called OfficeTiger. If it works, DuPont could cut its legal expenses in half, cut processing time by three months and digitize millions of old, paper-based records. The only thing standing in the way of success, reports BW, are the obvious language and cultural subtleties.

Legal services can be outsourced because they are still incredibly paper-based, says BW. So, whileOfficetiger_1   DuPont will still maintain a team of high-level attorneys in its Delaware headquarters, it can wipe out dozens of lower-level legal beagles if OfficeTiger comes through.

So, is PR next? Will clients soon be counting on low-cost Filipino, Pakistani and Indian publicists to pitch The Wall Street Journal any time soon? Highly unlikely. For one thing, clients like to have industry-specific agency partners (and, there can’t be too many Asian-based industry specialists who understand U.S. verticals). For another, clients like to have their agencies within arm’s length (not on the other side of the world). For another, the subtlety and sophistication needed to quickly understand a client’s business, the pain points keeping the client’s customers up at night and the client’s unique solution to that pain demands senior-level thinkers. As does the ability to translate the "problem-solution" into a quick, compelling media pitch.

So, while I’m intrigued by DuPont’s legal outsourcing model (and think it bodes ill for law firms everywhere), I’m not going to lose any sleep worrying that they’ll turn to PR next.

Sep 11

Should PR firms be forced to become more diverse as well?

How about the NYC Human Rights Commission stepping in and forcing Manhattan advertising agencies to become more diverse?

According to published reports, just two percent of the upper echelon of NYC’s ad industry is black. And, under an agreement just reached between the top holding companies and the City, the WPPs and Interpublics of the world have set numerical goals for increasing Black representation on their creative and managerial staffs, and to report on their progress each year.

So, here are a few questions:

1.) Why is the diversity effort aimed only at increasing the percentage of blacks? Why not Hispanics or Asians as well? Especially since the former represents the single fastest growing minority in the country?

2.) I know advertising is still the 800-pound gorilla of the marketing world, but why didn’t the human rights commission include agencies representing direct, sales promotion, interactive and, of course, PR?

It really is a sad commentary that a human rights commission has to force an entire industry to become more diverse. Diversity is not just a nice thing to do. It’s a smart business development move since clients want agencies to understand and reflect our increasingly diverse society.

Human rights commissions in various cities can step in and force the issue, but the bigger question is why more client organizations aren’t insisting their agencies become more diverse. In my mind, that’s the only way our industry, and other marketing disciplines, will move into the 21st century.

So, does Peppercom walk the walk? We’re trying. But, we have a long way to go. Just like virtually every other PR firm in New York and around the country.

Jul 11

Caveat publicist

There are oh so many positives to the digital marketing revolution. But, there’s also a darker side that will occasionally rise up and bite the unresponsive companies, the non-believing medical supply executives and, most troubling of all, the unsuspecting publicists.

We’ll bypass the corporations who continue to ignore the irate complaints of bloggers about their company, product or service. And, we’ll raise the white flag of surrender in terms of ever convincing the naysaying surgical gloves sales guy that blogging/podcasting are more than passing fads. But, the PR industry needs to wake up and do a quick intervention before more individual careers and client/agency relationships are destroyed by young and inexperienced publicists who can’t write, don’t understand "digital" media relations and are being "outed" more and more often by the media.

Gawker, for example, has already pilloried a poor Fleishman-Hillard publicist for a brutally-wordedBw1_2   KFC pitch. And, now BusinessWeek, the Holy Grail of BtoB publicity, has entered the fray by beating the bejesus out of a well-intentioned, but poorly trained, Newman Communications publicist (article pictured). In the UK, a PR agency hired by Rupert Lowe, the embattled chairman of Southampton Football Club, was caught posting comments of support on a fanzine’s web forum for Lowe ahead of an important board meeting. The forum’s host got suspicious, investigated the IP addresses called the local paper and the move backfired. Lowe has subsequently resigned.

Public relations has always had its share of grammatically-challenged publicists (and executives). But, the current crop seems to have reached new lows (Lowes?). Some recent college grads not only can’t write, they have no idea how to properly research or pitch a reporter. And, as a result, their ill-conceived, poorly crafted pitches are ridiculed by the media.

In the wake of such a public flogging, the client suffers, the agency suffers and, sadly, the publicist, Dave Overton, suffers.

I’m not sure if this is a Council of PR Firms issue, a PRSA challenge or something that each individual agency and corporate communications department needs to address. But, this is an industry problem. A small, but growing, problem that, left unchecked, will do a major job on our image.

The media are right to ridicule our horrific pitches. Now, it’s up to us to do something about it.

Jul 10

Industry pundits are missing the real reasons for PR’s rising popularity

Ad Age’s Jonah Bloom has awakened to the rise of PR in the marketing hierarchy and devoted his weekly editorial to it.

That said, he credits the dynamic Miami ad agency Crispin Porter Bogusky and its "subservient chicken" kind of non-traditional advertising approaches focused at consumers and journalists as the main reason why PR is gaining in importance. There’s no doubt the high-flying Crispin, which recently appeared on the cover of BusinessWeek, is re-writing all the staid rules of the oh-so-staid advertising business. But, Bloom is missing the larger, digital part of the equation in his analysis.

Instead of exploring how well-equipped PR is to lead the digital revolution, how people like Steve Rubel are doing just that, and how digital, in turn, is helping to re-write all of the basic marketing rules, Bloom chose instead to go down a different road. He interviewed my good friend and fellow Mets fan, Julia Hood of PR Week, and asked why PR has become so "hot."

Julia responded by saying certain sectors like health care and tech are helping fuel PR’s growth and, get this, that the growth is coming from the mega integrated marketing agencies who are sending more and more referrals to the PR brethren within their holding company ranks. Oh brother.

Not only do they fail to mention the digital trend, but they cite big agency/holding company referrals as a key reason why PR is doing so well.

The real innovation in PR that is driving our industry’s growth and dramatic move up the food chain is coming from the non-holding company world (just check out what Edelman is up to these days). To ascribe our growth and rising prestige to a Y&R throwing a few more bones to a Burson or an Omnicom ad agency inviting a Porter, Fleishman or Ketchum to help pitch an integrated account is both disingenuous and disturbing.

If you want to find the Crispin Porter Bogusky of the PR world (and the catalyst fueling our industry’s upward movement), I don’t suggest looking within any holding company. There’s way too much turf-fighting and focus on pleasing the REAL clients (the Sir Martin’s and John Wren’s), then there is in redefining and reshaping public relations.

Jun 08

Major League Baseball should spotlight a bright, young star like Lastings Milledge, not wrist-slap him

In the wake of the Jason Grimsley revelations that many ballplayers are now injecting undetectable human growth hormone to enhance their performance, it’s startling to see the NY Mets chastise rookie phenom, Lastings Milledge, for his post home run celebration the other night.

For those of you who may have missed it, Milledge hit a dramatic ninth inning home run to send the Mets into extra innings against the Giants (and their hated steroid king, Barry Bonds). As he was taking the field after his first MLB home run, the rookie walked along the right field stands and gave "high-five’s" to one fan after another. It was a great, and genuine, gesture on the part of Milledge to thank the fans for their ovation.

So, what do the Mets do? They tell him in no uncertain terms that such displays are unprofessional, and issued an immediate cease and desist order.

Talk about a bad move. Milledge is exactly what baseball needs right now. With the sport in total denial and taking little, if any, action to question or asterisk the suspicious records being set, they should at least be shining the spotlight on bright, young stars like Lastings. Instead, they curtail his post homerun celebrations and tell him to act more professionally.

I still think MLB needs to step up to the plate and launch a massive grass roots education campaign to educate kids about the dangers of steroids and human growth hormones. Baseball’s hierarchy should insist that, if they want to be considered for Hall of Fame inclusion, players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and good ol’ Barry need to go out on the hustings, admit that they took illegal drugs and plead with the kids not to follow suit. Last, and not least, MLB should asterisk any and all records from 1998 on. That’s approximately the time frame when the big boppers began their doping. And, pitchers shouldn’t be excluded. Does anyone think Roger Clemens and Curt Shilling would still be throwing 98 mph fastballs without a little help from their pharmaceutical friends?

So, here’s a tip of the hat to Lastings Milledge and his demonstrations of pure, youthful delight. Let’s encourage him and his type to bring the joy back to baseball while we discourage Grimsley and his ilk from their ilegal actions. Maybe if more fans speak out, someone at MLB headquarters will finally hitch up his trousers and do the right thing.

Hat tip to Isaac Farbowitz for this.

May 25

The secret sauce of the PRSA’s Counselors Academy is the sharing of secret sauce

Imagine Helen Ostrowski leading a session on Porter Novelli’s consumer practice strategy. Or Pam Edstrom discussing WagEd’s secrets to maintaining its long-standing Microsoft relationship. How about Richard Edelman opening up on his firm’s digital strategy? Now imagine the audience they’re addressing is comprised of CEOs of other top public relations firms. In each session, Helen, Pam and Richard would answer any and all questions about the good, the bad and the ugly in creating these services, relationships and strategies. Never happen in a million years, right? Right.

But, a variation of that scenario occurs every year at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy’s Spring Conference. We have small and midsized agency leaders opening up and describing their most strategic products and services, their toughest challenges and their deepest, darkest professional secrets. Why? Because we all become better as a result and, as we know, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Shared intelligence and mutual trust are the secret sauce of the Counselors Academy. Each year, I come away from the Spring Conference knowing a little bit more than when I arrived. And I can’t think of another professional organization that provides that same benefit. So, while we compete against one another during the year, we lay down our arms for a 48-hour truce and share our war stories. And, I get to listen to all-stars like Lynn Casey and Rick French and Jason Anthoine and David Warchawski tell me how they compete, differentiate themselves and attract and maintain talent. And, I get to ask them any question I like.

Could you imagine how much more strategic and effective our industry as a whole would be if the big guys followed the example of the Counselors Academy? It certainly merits further discussion but, in my mind, will never come to pass. Oh well. I can dream. And, in the meantime, there’s always next year’s spring conference in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to look forward to.

May 23

Up close and personal with Julia Hood of PR Week

I had the unique opportunity yesterday to turn the tables on PR Week Editor Julia Hood and interview her. The occasion was the PRSA Counselors Academy annual Spring Conference in Savannah.

Julia was gracious enough to agree to sit alongside me and share her views in a "Town Hall" format with 185 top agency leaders from all parts of the world. We touched on everything from Doug Dowie and digital technologies to the role of PR and its rising importance within the marketing mix.

The session’s only real contentious moment came when Rick French, who runs a very successful North Carolina firm, challenged Julia on her publication’s coverage of the Dowie trial, saying she’d been too easy on the management of Fleishman-Hillard, Dowie’s firm. Julia disagreed, saying she thought PR Week’s coverage had been very balanced throughout the trial. We also talked about why advertising still receives mainstream business press coverage (I.e. Crispin Porter’s Businessweek cover story) while we, in PR, don’t.

She sees the latter scenario starting to change and cited Edelman’s recent coverage in the Journal as an example.

As is my wont, I took the opportunity yesterday to again bring up my perception that PR Week affords more coverage to the larger PR firms. While Julia didn’t disagree, she did suggest that small and midsized firms need to do a better job of understanding who writes what at PR Week and come to her and her team with advice and insight on potential story topics rather than new business or personnel announcements.

Last, but not least, I asked Julia if she were just starting her own PR firm (I called it Hood & Hood and based it in her home town of Bethel, CT for argument’s sake), how she would go about "getting on PR Week’s radar screen." She said she’d make it her business to scan the editorial calendars, line up one or two clients who would speak on her behalf and, as she stated earlier, become a source of tips and trends to one or more reporters. She said that, as we do at Peppercom, she’d treat Hood & Hood as one of her most important clients, and devote time and energy to branding her firm.

Julia plans to podcast our entire 40-minute discussion on the PR Week website shortly (we’ll link to it when it becomes available). Oh, and by the way, in addition to being a great editor and interview subject, Julia also happens to share my passion for the Mets. We had a great time watching the Metropolitans knock off the hated Bronx Bombers on Sunday night.

May 18

I wonder if the just-discovered solar system has a planet and a PR industry like ours?

European astronomers have detected a new solar system in the constellation Puppis (always one of my favorite constellations, btw) that is remarkably similar to our own. And, guess what? The third planet in this new solar system just might have the right ingredients for life.

So, borrowing a page from one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, I wonder if this third planet in the constellation Puppis might have spawned a "bizarro" version of our present-day public relations world on Earth?

On Bizarro planet, the reality of our PR world would be the exact opposite. So, for example:

1) Bizarro mainstream media would not only acknowledge they get most of their story ideas fromPlanetary_system_1   public relations pros, they’d thank them as well.

2) The Bizarro PR industry would reflect the ethnic diversity of the third planet’s population.

3) In the Bizarro PR world, corporate purchasing managers would focus on what they do best: get the lowest possible prices for office supplies and furniture.

4) On Bizarro, prospective clients would be "up front and honest" with agencies competing for their business. If the CEO has a relationship with the head of one of the agencies, it would be disclosed in advance. If a global manufacturer says it’s tired of the way it’s been treated by its present big agency partner, but still feels a multinational presence is critical, then they wouldn’t invite smaller agencies into the pitch and make them fruitlessly spin their wheels.

5) Bizarro clients would pay agencies in advance of each month’s work.

6) Bizarro world Fortune 500 CEO’s would understand the bottom-line contributions of PR and routinely extend that coveted "seat at the table."

7) Bizarro PR world awards’ dinners would be brief and to the point.

8) And, last but not least, the Bizarro world edition of the New York Times would have a daily column devoted to public relations in recognition of the fact that it has grown more important and strategic than advertising.

So, who wants to help me charter a spaceship to Bizarro PR world? I’m pretty sure your frequent flier miles will cover most of the cost.

May 02

If I was advising Volvo….

Say what you will about the new television commercials from Volkswagen, but they made me stop in my tracks and think, wow!

The Crispin Porter Bogusky spots are the buzz of the advertising industry right now, and deservedly so. They depict a couple of people having a seemingly benign conversation inside a VW when, bam, they get sideswiped and a major accident occurs. For a moment, you have no idea if the people survive or not. Your mind immediately asks, "Was that for real?" Then, as the damaged VW sits in an intersection bashed, bruised and boiling over, the scene is immediately followed by the VW logo and two words: "Safe happens."

This is indeed the real deal. Crispin apparently used stunt drivers and real VW’s to make the accidents happen in real time and at real speeds. And the viewer feels like he’s right there. Talk about rubber-necking delays!

While the ad guys are deep in debate as to whether Crispin/VW have gone too far with their reality programming, I’m not seeing much buzz about the impact of these VW safety spots on Volvo, which for years has "owned" safety as a brand promise.

If I was counseling Volvo, I’d tell them not to take this head-on branding collision lying down. I’d re-assert my "safety" leadership in any number of smart, aggressive marketing ways. I’d begin by issuing safe driving tips for the upcoming Summer travel season. I’d create a safety hall of fame and enshrine those Volvo drivers who’ve never had an accident in all the years they’ve been behind the wheel (and, hopefully not tempt fate in the process). I’d create a "safest places" survey and have consumers identify where they feel safest (i.e. America’s safest city, safest college campus, safest highways and byways, etc.). You get the point.

Now is not the time for the Volvo brand to stay in neutral. American consumers are notoriously fickle and this Crispin spot is one of the most compelling advertisements I’ve seen in a long time. I know that if I were to buy a car for my teenage daughter right now, I’d be looking to get her the safest car possible. Before the Crispin ad, my list would have been limited to Volvo and Saab. Now it would have to include VW as well.

Apr 24

Response to Julia Hood

Julia Hood’s editorial in today’s PRWeek raises some interesting and valid counterpoints to my post from last week on large agencies. As Julia knows, my original bone of contention concerned the out-of-proportion editorial coverage afforded to the big guys by her trade journal and others. And while there are exceptions to my comments about the dearth of innovation and thinking from big agencies (Ketchum and Edelman are notable exceptions), the fact remains that the big guys simply aren’t the best examples of today’s swift-moving, rapidly-changing marketplace. And, that’s a direct result of what I call the "holding company mentality." Having come from J. Walter Thompson before founding Peppercom with my partner, Ed, I know that the publicly-traded companies worry about:

1.) their stock price

2.) their overhead expenses

3.) their profitability

Notice I didn’t mention the client or agency employees in my list.

While all firms worry about the cost of doing business, the WPPs, Omnicoms and Interpublics of the world exert tremendous pressure on their respective agencies to tow the financial line (which, by necessity forces them to allocate time to satisfying their owners first and their clients and employees second). This sort of pressure also creates a "quarter-by-quarter" management mentality and an environment in which offices with separate P&L’s will often battle over the same client dollar. As a result, we’re seeing very little innovation from large agencies and, from what I hear, dramatically reduced management development programs. Why? Because R&D and management training are expense items.

At the same time, we’re not seeing any serious industry thought leadership from most of the big agencies. Why? Because to speak out too loudly is to rock the boat. And as the Nick Naylor character in "Thank you for Smoking" said, "We all have mortgages to pay." So, Julia, while I expect you to continue to cover the big guys in full-page spreads, give some thought to similar-sized profiles of people like Phil Nardone, Mark Raper and Jennifer Prosek. These are the people who, if asked, would place the client and their own employees at the top of their lists of business concerns. They’re also the people who are reinventing the business to develop new service offerings and future leaders.

The issue isn’t advertising vs. PR (although I’ve waxed poetic on that in past posts). Rather, it’s all about the future of PR. My question to you, Julia, is this: do we have the type of leaders and agencies who will develop the services and train the people to delight clients now and in the future?