May 27

Garbage in, garbage out

9109 I’ve never met Casey Jones (the marketer, not the engineer), but I already like the cut of this man’s jib.

For those of you unfamiliar with Casey (the marketer, not the ill-fated engineer), Jones has a long list of accomplishments including serving as VP of Dell and creating Apple’s memorable ‘1984’ TV spot that launched the Mac computer.

But, I’m not writing about Casey’s past accomplishments as a marketer. Instead, I feel compelled to wax poetic about his fresh way of thinking about client-agency relationships. As a strategy consultant to corporations such as Verizon Wireless, Jones has changed the ways clients think. To wit, Verizon’s VP of marketing communications, John Harrobin, is now holding his internal executives responsible for “…demonstrating excellence in providing the organization’s stable of agencies clearly defined briefs from which to execute marketing communications and campaigns.” That’s HUGE! In other words, clients can no longer pass the buck and blame their agencies for poor execution. Instead, thanks to Casey’s counsel, Verizon’s internal communications team shares success or failure with their agency partners. Talk about a long overdue sea change.

Jones is an absolute evangelist when it comes to the ongoing blame game about failed marketing efforts. His motto is ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’ That’s shorthand for his theory that efficiency-obsessed clients can get want they want by not slashing an agency’s budget but, rather, by briefing the agency better. Jones rates the average client direction as being between a two and a three on a scale of one to 10. “The norm is partial, incomplete and sometimes no brief at all,” he opines. Ouch.

I agree with Jones (with reservations, of course). We have some superb clients with whom we’re fully engaged in the strategic planning process, creative brief and definitions of success. And, then there have been those clients who, after telling us they wanted a strategic partner, left us to put out fires on a daily basis and fired us for ‘not understanding the business of their business.’ I still recall a post mortem with one client who admitted he himself didn’t really get the corporation’s business model but still felt compelled to fire us. “So,” replied Deb Brown, our ice hockey playing, Kangoo-jumping, absolutely fearless account manager of the ill-fated business, “How do you expect your agency to understand your business if you don’t?” You go, girl.

Casey Jones and his ideas are starting to take root. The Association of National Advertisers’ School of Marketing has invited him to give presentations about the importance of quality briefings by the client. That’s great. But, it’s not enough. I suggest the Arthur W. Page Society (www.awpagesociety.com) and the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org) follow suit ASAP and invite Jones to present to PR types.

Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. It’s high time other clients follow the lead of Verizon Wireless and hold their own internal communications team just as responsible for success (or failure) as they do their external agency partners.

As Ad Age said in its headline for the article, “Marketers, quit blaming your agency – it’s your brief at fault.”

Mar 11

A terminal case of the slows

When asked why he fired George B. McClellan for the SECOND time as commander-in-chief of the   Army of the Potomac, President Abraham Lincoln said, "Because he has a terminal case of the slows." McClellan was a great administrator and organizer, but he lacked the stomach for warfare.

Editorial_20100403After reading about the latest Catholic Church disgrace in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, I reached the exact, same conclusion about Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Here's why. Back in early February, a Philly grand jury found that no fewer than 37 priests, who had been accused or suspected of misbehavior with children, were STILL serving in the ministry. That's enough men to field three football squads, four baseball teams or SEVEN basketball franchises (heck, the latter would constitute an entire division). 

Now, get this: one month after the grand jury report, the archdiocese placed only 21 of the 37 priests on 'administrative leave.' That means:

A) All 37 accused molesters were running amok for a full month and…

B) Even worse, another 16 continue to have free and unfettered access to their unsuspecting flocks.

The good cardinal was quoted as saying, “I know that for many people their trust in the Church has been shaken.” Ha! Is he kidding? “Been' shaken?” My trust was shaken, stirred and completely shattered years ago.

Responding to Cardinal Rigali's decision to allow 16 of the accused clergy to continue their 'alleged' wanton ways, the grand jury said, “We understand the accusations are not proof, but we cannot understand the Archdiocese's apparent absence of any sense of urgency.”

I can understand it. Just as police departments boast of a thin blue line that closes ranks when one of its members is accused of wrongdoing, the Catholic Church has a thin line of either black or red hue (depending upon whether the cover-up is led by a priest or cardinal).

I'd like to believe if Abraham Lincoln were still alive and had the authority, he'd sack Rigali for his terminal case of the slows. And, he'd also boot the 37 offenders out of the priesthood faster than you can say “Gettysburg Address.”

When it comes to worst practices for image and reputation management, the Catholic Church is in a league of its own. The Philadelphia scandal is neither shocking nor unexpected. It's just more of the same old, same old.

And, sad to say, there will be many more scandals until, and unless, the Church addresses the issue of celibacy. But, that's another issue for another blog.

Until the Church is able to find a U.S. Grant-type to fill the papal role, they'll be stuck with George McClellan types such as Benedict XVI and Cardinal Rigali who delay, deny and obfuscate without ever acknowledging the system itself is broken.

A tip o' RepMan's hat to LunchBoy for suggesting this post.

Jan 07

Who’s The Boss!?

Today's post is by Peppercomer Ray Carroll.

First, I was brought on for resembling Brendan, and then hired fulltime as receptionist for projecting courtesy and hospitality.  Never would I’ve thought I’d receive an offer to be managing partner in my first year with the agency!  Although short-lived, my coup of the corner office was just as enlightening as it was rewarding.

B&I The front desk can be merciless, offering myriad tasks.  At other times it is placid.  There, I assist on many levels and have become facilitator in certain respects.  While I meet and greet clients, I rarely see our executives orchestrating their business. 

The idea of job swaps isn’t original, but a CEO trading places with a receptionist is new to me.  And, better yet, I was happy to be involved.  Following the trail blazed by erstwhile (couldn’t resist it) Peppercomers, I was anxious for my chance to overtake the reins as CEO.  The opportunity would provide insight into business beyond the lobby threshold.

Steve and I began this experience coincidently meeting outside our office building.  We rode the elevator together on route to conquer new domains.  Arriving on our floor, I bypassed my usual tasks and, was already convinced I had the better half of the arrangement.

Sprinting past the reception desk, I made a beeline for the boss’s office.  I relished my own space that boasted a huge desk, comfy couch, and Park Avenue view.  More impressive, I had an elite personal assistant at my beck-and-call.  

My morning agenda, at this point, seemed light and things were quiet.  I’d conclude an agency can’t evolve or prosper with a CEO sitting complacently at their desk.  My expectations became self-imposed, and I’d devise a few plans.  I questioned just how much I’d get away with in my new role.

I balked at tyranny, and I mulled over pranks and abuses of power that could’ve potentially jeopardized my returning the next day.  Choosing wisely, I gave Dandy an abridged version of my executive requests.  She politely rejected each one of my highfalutin ideas, and casually redirected my enthusiasm towards conference calls and caucuses. 

Confident in my new role, I summoned Peppercom’s president, Ted Birkhahn, into my office.  We discussed service trends and economic forces hindering top quality production from low-level positions.  Surprisingly, Ted dismissed my notion to double our receptionist’s salary.  We considered the relevance of job rotation, as well as potential benefits from swapping jobs with clients.  Staying true to impersonation, I tried convincing Ted to take part in a job swap of his own. 

Being part of Peppercom for nearly a year, it’s clear to me that leadership is a value shared both founders.  So, I next brought individuals into my office to speak about their professional development. We’d address account work, stressors, as well as experiences from the past year and future aspirations.  I also managed to finagle my way into a possible RepMan podcast with Paul Merchan.

Time was flying by and my afternoon was booked solid, so with a break coming up, I hit the gym.  I had my choice of equipment, so I jumped on a treadmill with a street view following it up with circuit training. I took note: physical wellness and mental prosperity go hand-in-hand.  It’d been too long since I’d last been to a gym, so, Steve, my heart and lungs thank you. 

I returned to the office and had lunch waiting; excellent timing before a few meetings.  By now I was ready to delve into what really makes Peppercom tick.  For the afternoon, Dandy had included me in every pertinent meeting, so now I’d witnessed the lifeblood of our company. 

Various teams of executives shuffled into my office with their expertise in tow.  We’d review client updates, plan outlines, and media strategy.  I saw our progress-tracking Harte chart, and joined in discussing technique to maximize capability within a scope of work.  I also joined a publicity team meeting, discussed leverage and positioning initiatives, and joined client conference calls. 

I found the job-swap to be an extremely eye opening experience.  I feel inspired and rejuvenated both mentally and physically.  While my current gig pays a few bills, I’ll strive for the caliber of job I held that day.  It’s tough passing up the rewards that wait as a direct result of your own dedicated efforts and success.  Mr. Cody: Thank You for the opportunity!

** My one regret: At my helm, our company’s image may have taken a direct hit.  Mismanagement of an entry-level position, by yours truly, will now prevent Andrea from ever referring us.

 

Nov 16

Killing for a Living

How do you like global tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and British American Tobacco suing Third World governments and spending oodles of cash to lobby for smaller warning signs on their packaging? That's right, Big Tobacco is once again on the offensive to make sure it continues to maim and kill as many people as possible in the name of free enterprise. 

Cigarette I'm not surprised tobacco is targeting the Third World. That's where the growth and profits are (that said, though, an amazing 21 percent of Americans still smoke). But, to think that Philip Morris, for example, is actually suing the government of Uruguay for excessive tobacco regulations is beyond the pale. 

Could you imagine being head of marketing for one of these death merchants? Talk about making a pact with the devil. 

Peter Nixon of Philip Morris is one such merchant of death. He's quoted in the Times as saying his company '…agreed that smoking was harmful and supported reasonable regulations where none exist.' Gee, what a swell guy. 

Yes. Nixon agrees cigarette packaging should have some sort of warning (the smaller the better, I'm sure). But, he takes exception with the new, larger warnings being placed on cigarette boxes around the world. 'We thought 50 percent was reasonable,' he told the Times. 'Once you take it up to 80 percent, there's no space for trademarks to be shown. We thought that was going too far.' So, covering 80 percent of a cigarette box is going too far, but killing half a million people each and every year isn't? Methinks Mr. Nixon is smoking something other than cigarettes. 

More to the image and reputation point of this blog, though, how can someone, anyone, work for an organization that knowingly manufactures and sells a product that kills? How can PR and advertising agencies represent them? And, how can all of the above look at themselves in the mirror each and every morning?

Maybe the answer lies in another, smaller NY Times article from the November 2nd Health section. It reported that 'middle-aged smokers are far more likely than non-smokers to develop dementia later in life, and heavy smokers — those who go through more than two packs a day — are at more than double the risk.' I'll bet Mr. Nixon and his heavy smoking, middle- aged peers at Philip Morris, BAT and the other Big Tobacco players are just suffering from early onset dementia. They'd have to be certifiable to do killing for a living.

 

Aug 20

Misspelling the word ‘Manhattan’ isn’t helpful to one’s job search

Having just finished a hilarious novel entitled, “The Pursuit of Other Interests”, my sensitivities Death-of-a-salesman-logo towards middle-aged, out-of-work job seekers is at an all-time high. The book, which profiles a 50-year-old advertising executive named Charlie, paints a bleak, if heartwarming, picture of the current landscape for middle-aged, unemployed white collar workers.

So, knowing how few employment opportunities exist as well as how thin the margin for error is, I was totally flabbergasted to receive the following note from a guy I’ll call Buck.

Dear Seekers of New Revenue:
I am currently seeking a full time, salary plus commission New Business Position in Manhatan. I would address these personally, but with over 2,300 names, I need to solve the challenge  quickly. I am the most dedicated, energetic, and knowledgable person in the Tri-State Area with respect to opening doors for corporate pitches.
I have been in the business for over 15 years and I work from 7 to 5 and can make at least 100 calls per day. I can very quickly develop a custom database for cold calls for your firm and set 2 pitch meetings per week.
Should my skill sets meet your requirements, I would love to speak furthur. Also, should you have a person or people in place to handle cold calling, I also work as a consultant on a per diem basis to upgrade their best practices.
Best Regards,
Buck McDesperate
(800) 555-1212 DesperateBuck@ISPProvider.com

To begin with, it was e-mail addressed to Sally Kennedy of Cossette Communications in Canada. Sally: sorry to be reading your spam. Second, Buck lets it be known that he’s an accomplished business development dude looking for a full-time salary plus commission gig in Manhatan. Yes, that’s Manhattan minus one ‘t’. Ouch. Misspelling Manhattan in the opening sentence of one’s pitch letter doesn’t augur well.

But, it gets worse. Buck lets me (or, Sally to be precise) know that he has a Rolodex with 2,300 names on it and is the most dedicated, energetic and knowledgeable person in the Tri-state Area (I wonder if that includes Toronto where, I assume, Sally is headquartered?). Buck’s been in the business world for 15 years, works from 7am to 5pm daily (he later amends it to 6am to 5pm daily), makes at least 100 calls each and every day (and that has to start hurting the fingers after awhile) and can produce “…a minimum of 2 valid pitch meetings over week.” Talk about Always Be Closing. Wow.

But, here’s the rub. If Buck is really that good and can produce a minimum of two valid pitch meetings per week, why is he blasting unsolicited e-mails to me (via Sally, of course. Sorry Sally). The sad truth about Buck, and the hundreds of thousands of other Bucks out there, is that he’s desperate. He’s probably been out of work for at least a year and has no solid prospects whatsoever. So, driven to desperation, he creates a rambling, semi-lucid, almost laughable pitch that is chock full of typos, poor grammar and inconsistencies.

Buck is not unlike the fictional character Charlie in the aforementioned Jim Kokoris book. Whiling away his time in an outplacement firm’s offices, Charlie puts together a database of former co-workers, clients, prospects and friends and blasts out a periodic e-newsletter entitled, “The Charlie Update!” Its subtitle is “Charlie B. Out on the Street.” One by one, the people on his hit list asked to be removed from the unintentionally hilarious mailings as Charlie becomes increasingly desperate and despondent.

Buck and Charlie are part of what a recent New York Times article called the 99ers. If memory serves, there are some 1.4 million unemployed, middle-aged, white collar workers who have passed the 99-week mark and no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. That’s when, driven to the brink of despair, they hit the send button and distribute embarrassingly bad missives like the one from Buck. I feel for these people and I wish I could help. But, sadly, I don’t have an answer except to suggest a dictionary and Thesaurus.


Jul 30

My card. My pain in the ass.

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

I hate cilantro and American Express. I’m rather good at avoiding cilantro but as an authorized
American-express-logo agent for Peppercom’s accounts, I am doomed to suffer the slings and arrows of this once premier and user friendly company.  Once upon a time, AmEx did have clout and lived up to its reputation of having responsive,  intelligent and capable customer service representatives who understood how to deliver and assure that cardholder issues were handled properly.

That was then, this is now. No matter if I call to transfer points to an airline account, respond to a suspicious charge inquiry or attempt to find out if a local office has Rubles, as soon as I hear “Thank you for calling American Express, with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” my stomach locks up and my eyes bleed.

My latest romp thru the AmEx Circle of Hell involved reporting a lost card and requesting a placement. I clickety-clicked thru their maelstrom of options, answering mindless questions (Recording: “I see you are requesting to report a lost card. If you are not sure press your nose, if you have blue eyes enter your phone number…”) and finally connected with a 'Customer Service Specialist' half-way around the globe. We were then on to the perfunctory introductions to hear “And how are you today Ms. Stevenson?”  (Don’t waste my time pretending to care while you finish filing your nails. I am tired of waiting. I want help. I want it now.)

But of course assistance still eluded me as I was passed from one subterranean being to the next, which, of course required my recounting the situation each time. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that after teeth grinding delays and mindless prattle I was finally told the new card would be shipped immediately, for delivery the very next day.

Not.

After downing a fifth of bourbon to prepare for yet another AmEx frustration-fest I called on the third day to report that we had not received the card.  Guess what? Someone with the brains of a toaster announced to me that he had located my request but didn’t have verification of completion. Huh? Oh… Just like the Seinfeld car rental episode: “You know how to take a reservation, you just don’t know how to keep it.”  I wanted to jump through the phone, look this idiot in the eye and ask if he REALLY expected me to find that acceptable.

On day four we finally received replacement card.

I canceled my personal AmEx, which I’d had since 1980. For now, at least, that will have to be retribution enough.

May 27

Nothing magical about Magic Kingdom’s financial scandal


May 27
Bonnie
Hoxie, a member of the Walt Disney Company's corporate media relations
department, was arrested yesterday and charged with selling early access to the
entertainment property's earnings reports. Ms. Hoxie was allegedly working with
a friend, Yonni Sebbag (whose surname says it all) to sell the 'insider'
information to hedge fund managers.

In
addition to splitting the money with her accomplice, Ms. Hoxie demanded he
supply her with such items as Stella McCartney shoes and a $700 Nieman-Marcus
handbag. I guess the Mickey Mouse hat, Little Mermaid flip-flops and Goofy ears
only go so far.

Disney
obviously has no control over its employees' conduct. But, when a company such
as BP or Disney places itself on a pedestal of environmental sensitivity or
purity, respectively, they take an even harder image hit when employees act
inappropriately.

Comics
will have a field day with Hoxie's moxie. Disney-edged material could include:


Did Hoxie's nose grow every time she told another lie?


Did Sebbag look in the mirror and ask, 'Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the
sleaziest of them of all?'


Was Hoxie Snow White to Sebbag's Dopey?

Poor
Walt Disney must be turning over in his grave. I'll bet he'd like to line up
Hoxie and Sebbag in front of those hunters who killed Bambi's mom.

The
Disney incident is a cautionary reputation tale. The feel-good, 'we do
everything right' mantras espoused by most Fortune 500 corporations can quickly
become a target for comics, pundits and bloggers like. So: note to the
Landor's, Siegal Gale's and other corporate identification firms that come up
with such slogans as 'Beyond petroleum.' Do some scenario playing first to see
if the tagline might provide an unhappy double entendre if things go South.

As
for Hoxie and Sebbag, I'll borrow the signature statement of Looney Tunes' character
Elmer Fudd and say, 'Th-Th-Th-That's all folks.' 

Mar 17

The Dante’s Inferno of holidays

March 17 I’ve heard New Year’s Eve referred to as ‘amateur hour’ since so many drink so much in so short a period of time. I agree. It’s an ideal night to hunker down and watch what’s left of Dick Clark countdown the final seconds of a dying year. The same can’t be said, though, for St. Patrick’s Day. It goes far beyond mere amateur hour status and deserves a much more exacting moniker. I suggest calling it the Dante’s Inferno of holidays.

What makes St. Patrick’s Day the Dante’s Inferno of holidays are the hooligan high school kids who hop onto various trains heading into the city and literally run amok. Already three sheets to the wind at 7:28am, the high schoolers careen up and down the narrow aisles, spill their bottles of Corona over otherwise placid commuters and engage in shoving and pushing matches that often escalate into replays of Ali-Frazier I.

Further exacerbating the horror show that is St. Patrick’s Day on NJT is the indifferent, standoffish attitudes of the train conductors. Rather than reign in the free-for-all, the conductors act as if it’s just another day. So, those of us who fork over $400 per month-plus for the rare privilege of riding the nation’s worst commuter railroad are like innocent bystanders watching a modern-day version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

All of which just underscores NJT’s horrific image and reputation. In fact, based upon my recent St. Patrick’s Day experience riding the train from hell, I’d like to suggest yet another update to my tagline for the Garden State’s transit service. Instead of: ‘Expect less,’ I’d like to update it to the more accurate, ‘Expect the worst.’ When it comes to the worst possible customer service experience imaginable, nobody beats NJT. Nobody. Not no how. Not no way.

Feb 18

We Suck…but we’re working on it

Guest Post by Sam Gordon, Peppercom

February 18 - domino-pizzaLast month Domino’s Pizza started their Pizza Turnaround campaign, telling consumers that Domino’s has heard the complaints regarding their pizza and is responding. As I’m sure you’ve seen, Domino’s takes its campaign farther than simply advertising a new pizza. It displays real customers’ most negative tweets and comments with actual Domino’s chefs reacting to them.

I, for one, thought this was genius and audibly gave the ad a wow the first time I saw it. One of the rare times a company actually admits its mistakes (before a giant recall or government takeover) and makes a commitment to correct the course.

Knowing I had the money back guarantee in my back pocket if it was a train wreck, I picked up the phone and ordered two mediums for the first time in six years, i.e. college.

The result: eh.

Better? From what I recall of their pizza, yeah, it’s better – especially the crust. But I’m still not a fan of their pizza.

Here is what I am a fan of though: 

After my pizza experience, I took ten minutes and gave feedback on their corporate site. I received no immediate reply and thought I suppose those comments went into a database and will be ignored, or they’ll just cut me a check or perhaps they are planning to film a surprise visit to me with free pizza and use it for their next commercial?!

Actually, the last was not far off. A week later I received a phone call from the local Domino’s franchise owner. After apologizing for the delay, she offered me a full refund, but said that she would love the chance to change my mind by sending my entire office pizza that day for lunch. She was confident if I tried a few options that I would enjoy Domino’s Pizza.

Impressed with the personal touch, I was game to try and have my mind changed. She ended up sending my office five pizzas and happily accepted everyone’s feedback, the positive (there was more than I expected) and the negative.

To me, this is the impressive part of Domino’s campaign.

Not only is the company taking a chance and displaying some vulnerability (my ex girlfriend would be so proud), but they are backing up their marketing efforts with good old-fashioned customer service and moderately improved pizza.

This campaign made me wonder why more companies don’t take such bold measures as to admit there might, just might be something they can fix with their product (I’m looking at you AT&T Wireless Coverage, United Airlines and Star Wars Episodes I, II and III).

Sure, after our office pizza party I still really didn’t love Domino’s pizza, but here’s what happened when I told the franchise owner that. She offered to have me come into the store and taste all of the different options they have. She’s still confident I will find something I like – I’m going in this week.

I suppose the reason that more companies don’t take such bold measures is because they are unwilling to follow them up with bold actions. Bravo Domino’s for trying.

Feb 12

Are you guys still in business?

February 12 - out-of-business Everyone's buzzing about Toyota's troubles. If I've read one image expert's opinion about what the Japanese carmaker needs to do, I've read a thousand.

Lost in all of the Toyota tumult, though, is Chrysler's total inability to capitalize on the opportunity.

Unlike Ford, who grew their January sales by 25 percent and GM, which moved the sales needle north to the tune of 14 percent, Chrysler's sales nosedived by eight percent. Why? According to a recent Ad Age article, the average consumer thinks Chrysler went out of business. Ouch! Selling cars in the Great Recession is tough enough without having to overcome the perception that you no longer exist.

I think I know how Chrysler executives must be feeling. The same thing happened to us (albeit, only for a day or two and within a decidedly smaller universe).

In the early days, Peppercom was known as Middleberg Light. Don Middleberg had built the top dotcom PR firm in the country and our nascent business was seen as a smaller, but rapidly-emerging competitor.

So, when the dotcom bubble burst and clients started falling faster than Autumn leaves in a windstorm, we took a major beating. At the peak of the downturn, we also suffered a very unfortunate service disruption. Our phone lines went down and our web site went black. We fixed the problem within 24 hours and didn't think too much about it. A day or so later, though, I received a few e-mails and calls from friends in the industry asking if we were still in business. Wow. Talk about a wake-up call!

I did exactly what Chrysler is attempting to do now. I over communicated. I made sure we announced promotions, new client wins (no matter how small or inconsequential) and re-marketed existing service offerings as 'new and improved,' I made it my business to make sure the PR universe knew Peppercom was alive and well.

Chrysler needs to continue shouting at the top of their lungs and from the highest mountains lest people continue thinking they're the 2010 version of the Edsel.

Typepad should do communicating as well. Typepad is the company that hosts my blog. They recently changed their model and it's badly impacted the Repman blog. Visitors aren't being permitted to post comments and I'm not being alerted to any comments that manage to appear. We've made countless inquiries to Typepad to get the damn thing fixed but, so far, we haven't heard a thing. Hey Typepad: are you guys still in business?