May 13

Nicknames are being nixed

20110512125827070_0001aaaaaThe New York Times just ran a fascinating trend piece about the demise of nicknames in sports.  The reporter, John Branch, waxed poetic about the great nicknames of yesteryear, ranging from ‘the Bambino’ and ‘Dr. J’ to ‘Earl the Pearl’ and ‘Night Train’. 

Here's the rub, though. Nicknames aren't just disappearing in sports, they're vanishing in society at large.

To explain why, the Times cites sociologists and experts in onomastics (now, there's an obscure profession for you). The experts say we don't have ‘Choo-Choos’, ‘Mookies’ or ‘Whiteys’ anymore because there's an increasing lack of intimacy and connectedness in society. A Wayne State professor added “…a nickname, good or bad, meant we cared. You don't give someone about whom you are indifferent a nickname. The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference.” Amen, brother.

I love nicknames and always will. And, I've been unknowingly bucking the nickname nixing trend from day one.  To wit:

– My son, Chris, is known as ‘Ali’ (a la Muhammad Ali, my all-time favorite boxer).
– My daughter, Catharine, is known as ‘the Goose’ (because one of her earliest expressions was “You silly goose.”)
– My older brother, Russ, is ‘Ra’ because that's how my younger brother John (‘J’) once pronounced his name.
– Chris calls me ‘sDot’ (he says it has something to do with my addiction to the BB. Addiction? What addiction?)
– Chris's significant other is universally known as ‘O.P.’ (her initials)
– My buddy, Tommy, is the Babe Ruth of nicknames. He's alternatively known as ‘Thos’, ‘TLP’, ‘El Hombre Blondo', ‘Le Poer’ and ‘Thom’ (the man may have an identity complex).

Many of Peppercom's key players sport nicknames as well. There's:

– Ted ‘Teddy Ballgame’ Birkhahn (because, like the original Teddy Ballgame, our Ted can do it all).
– Maggie ‘Maggs’ O'Neill.
– Nick ‘The Knife’ Light (one of the Goose's high school boyfriends was known as Nick the Knife, so poor Nick was handed the same sobriquet).
– Dandy Stevenson is ‘The Danderoo’ (that's what Howard Cosell always called Dandy Don Meredith).
– Ed is either ‘Eddie Moeddie’ or ‘Edward Moedward’ (depending on whether the social situation is casual or formal).
– And, then, there's our West Coast president Ann Barlow, who is known solely by her surname. (i.e. “What's Barlow been up to of late?”)

I could go on and on. But, I think the nickname thing is indicative of my personal POV and Peppercom's culture. I give nicknames to people I like and care about (or, absolutely detest. But, that's a different blog for a different day).

I think the Wayne State egghead nailed it when he said the opposite of love is indifference. One of the main reasons people hate their jobs is because of the impersonal nature of the workplace. Peppercom has many faults, but impersonal and indifferent it is not.

I dare any holding company executive to share just one nickname from his or her place of work. They can't. Because at the big firms, you're just a number. Trust me, there's no Ed 'The Glider' Charles or Walt 'Clyde' Frazier at Weber-Shandwick, Burson or Hill & Knowlton. Because, well, that would be a tad too personal.

How about your organization (or circle of friends)? Have any cool nicknames you'd care to share?

Apr 28

Does anyone read in-flight magazines?

Do you read in-flight magazines? You know the ones I'm talking about, right? They're shoved into  an airplane's seat back right alongside the evacuation instructions and vomit bag.

Since I've been traveling relentlessly of late, I've decided to pass my time during the endless delays to observe my fellow passengers to see if any actually picked up and read the magazines. No one did. Not a soul. Not the morbidly obese man on my left or the pajama-clad, trailer park denizen on my right. And, I'm positive the toddler sitting directly behind me and repeatedly kicking my seatback wasn't flipping through the articles eitArticle-1200719-005E374800000258-743_468x330her.

This wouldn't matter if airlines weren't relentlessly cutting costs and adding a la carte pricing faster than you can say sleeping air traffic controllers. 

Just imagine how much money every airline could save (and pass along to passengers) if they did away with in-flight magazines. The publications serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever except to show me diagrams of various airports and maps of the world. (So, that's where Ceylon is, eh?)

Back in the mid-13th century when I plied my PR trade as an account executive, securing a placement in an in-flight magazine was a HUGE deal. In fact, most clients considered it an A-level hit, right alongside a Times article or GMA appearance. I guess that's because, in the days before iPads, iPods and laptops became ubiquitous, airline passengers actually read the damn magazines. Nowadays, though, I can't think of a single new business proposal or year-long plan that so much as even mentions gaining publicity in an in-flight magazine.

So, why do they still exist? You'd think one of the more progressive airlines such as JetBlue or Southwest would have banned them years ago, announced the move as a further reflection of their eco-friendly ways and made a big splash about passing along the cost savings in a massive advertising campaign. Nah, that would be too obvious.

Sometimes the easiest solutions are the ones staring you right in the face. So, here's hoping some airline executive wakes up and cancels his in-flight magazine order at the same time he gives air traffic controllers a little more vacation time. The flying public would thank him for both.

Apr 26

Hey nineteen

I first became aware of the yawning information gap between my generation and Millennials on  Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was there, while taking a break at 15,000 feet, that I happened to mention the seminal TV character, 'Archie Bunker.' My son, Chris, and our climbing buddy, Stafford, both Millennials, responded with a resounding, “Who”?Confused-Man

In fact, the more we spoke about events of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the more I was reminded of the Steely Dan song, 'Hey Nineteen' (“No, we got nothing in common. No, we can't talk at all.”).

Since the dilly on Kili, I've encountered many examples of a twenty-something not knowing what I thought was pretty basic information about the people, places and things of my era.

In fact, my curiosity began to grow as I compared the information gap between Millennials and Boomers, and what I believed was the LACK of such a gap between Boomers and our parents (aka The Greatest Generation). While Millennials seemed stumped about many things that happened before 1990, my generation appears to know quite a bit about, say, Benny Goodman, the Sudetenland and Fibber McGee's Closet (even though we weren't alive to see or experience any of the above).

So, I put my hypothesis to the test. I asked Peppercom's Millennials if they knew about 10 people, places and things from my generation. I was pleasantly surprised overall, but positively stunned by the following:

– 80 percent had never heard of Glasnost (that would be like my generation not knowing about 'appeasement').
– 50 percent didn't know about the Iran-Contra Affair (easily the biggest political scandal to hit Washington after Watergate and before Monica Lewinsky).
– 90 percent had never heard of Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. ice hockey team that pulled off the biggest upset in Olympic history. Eruzione was the team's poster child, a media darling and appeared positively EVERYWHERE).
– 60 percent didn't know former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle (now, some may argue that Dan Quayle himself might have a hard time identifying 41's VP, but would Baby Boomers blank on Richard M. Nixon? Hardly).
– 40 percent didn't remember Bo Jackson, arguably the greatest, all-around athlete of the 1980s. (He was also the star of Nike's 'Bo knows' global ad campaign. Bo may know, but Millennials sure don't know Bo).

I'll leave it to sociologists, historians and other experts to explain why so many Millennials seem to know so little about so much that came before. But, it doesn't bode well since, as we know, those who don't learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.

So, what do you Boomer and Millennial readers make of all this? How about you Gen X types? Why does the information gap exist? Perhaps, even more alarmingly, will the coming generation be even LESS aware of the recent past than their Millennial predecessors? If so, Archie Bunker would undoubtedly have called them "meatheads".

Apr 18

Stealing my heart

The current issue of PR Week carries a totally irrelevant 'gloves off' discussion as to whether  “…clients have become more vigilant in the pitch process since the recession.” More vigilant? Try more vigilant, more demanding and more demeaning as well.

Kidtantrum2Ever since the 2008 economic meltdown, there's been a seismic shift in the ways in which prospects select (or, in many cases don't select, a new firm). I won't elaborate further since Jen Prosek's take on the rather sophomoric debate nails it on the head.

We had a recent experience that exemplifies just how much the agency search process has changed of late (as well as the low regard for a PR firm's time and professionalism that exists within some corporations).

The CMO of a Midwestern technology firm e-mailed us in a panic. Her business was rapidly ramping up its market spend and needed to hire a “top, midsized, BtoB firm” ASAP. She provided the budget range ($15k-$20k per month) and said we were one of only three firms she was contacting.

Since our growth has been robust of late (and, we were reluctant to further strain our resources), we responded cautiously. One of our managers left the prospect a voice mail asking for more details, but never heard back.

Now, fast forward several weeks. My business partner, Ed, received an e-mail from the woman complaining that:
A) I had never responded to her original note, and
B) She had never heard from anyone at Peppercom.

While it's true I didn't acknowledge her original note, one of our executives did, in fact, call. Regardless, she implored Ed to respond and said that we'd already been shortlisted.

And so, I called her. We had an amiable conversation and discussed her needs. That's when she told me she needed a plan within 48 hours. I should have balked. Instead, feeling a little Catholic guilt, I asked one of our managers to drop everything and submit the materials within the deadline.

Then, predictably, our rapid response was followed by prolonged silence. More than a little angry, I shot the woman a note. “Stay tuned,” she replied. “We're making decisions this week.” The note was followed by yet another extended period of radio silence. I e-mailed again, asking for an explanation. This was her response:

“Your timing couldn't be better. We've just made our decision and, sadly, Peppercom isn't one of our two finalists. Thanks and good luck.” Damn. Suckered again.

I felt just like Mick Jagger, who sang in 'Stealing My Heart', “I thought you were dinner, but you were the shark.” In fact, Stealing my heart could serve as an anthem for any agency that's been raked through the coals in today's murky world of new business pitches.

If PR Week wanted to host an authentic gloves off discussion, they would invite two VP's of corporate communications to address a far more relevant question: “Should PR firms be treated shabbily in new business searches?” I could connect them with one woman who answer with a resounding “You betcha!”

This post is dedicated to Peppercommers Sara Jane Whitman Ramos and Courtney Chauvin Ellul.

Apr 14

I guess the South will rise again

Gone_with_the_Wind(070311092656)Via_col_Vento_6A just-released CNN/ORC poll marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War showed  an astounding 42 percent of respondents said slavery WAS NOT the main reason southern states seceded from the Union. Holy Abraham Lincoln!

When broken down by political party affiliation, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split (which is why they're independents, I guess) and MOST Republicans said states' rights and not slavery, was the reason for secession. Gimme a break.

The South seceded solely to protect 'the curious institution' as they called slavery. Period. To say otherwise is to rewrite history and reminds me of the nut jobs who claim the holocaust never occurred either.

I'm not surprised the Tea Party-inspired Republicans believe the way they do. It actually fits like a glove. Still, it's a sorry commentary on the current state of affairs and an affront to the hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers who were killed and wounded to preserve the union and end slavery.

I think the survey speaks volumes about the image of the Republican Party and, frankly, am surprised the Rachel Maddows of the world aren't making a bigger deal about the findings. I'm also surprised reactionaries such as the Reverend Al Sharpton aren't leveraging the survey to further fan the flames and advance their personal agendas.

BTW, here are a few other key findings:

– One in four Americans surveyed sympathize more with the Confederacy's cause than the Union's. Nice.
– That statistic increases to an astounding 40 percent among Southerners. Even nicer.
– 80 percent of Republicans admired the leaders of the southern states (all of whom were slaveholders, BTW).

I suggest CNN/ORC survey the same group in November of 2012, when we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder if an overwhelming number of Republicans and Southerners will still insist the Civil War wasn't fought to end slavery? Silly me. Of course they will.

I guess the South will rise again.

Tip o' the hat to Chris 'Repman, Jr.'  Cody for suggesting this post.

Apr 06

My mom named us after mediocre actors

I was minding my own business at New Jersey's world-famous Colts Neck Inn the other night when 6a00d83451be5969e200e54f3a9af18833-640wi I overheard this conversation:

Woman #1: 'Hi, I'm Jan, and this is my boyfriend, Tommy."

Woman #2: "Hello. I'm Raquel, and this is Luis. My mom named my sisters and me after movie stars. I was named after Raquel Welch. My sister, Tina, was named for Tina Louise. My sister, Yvonne, was named for Yvonne DeCarlo, a great actress of the '40s. And, then there's Norma Jean. And, well, you know who she was named after."

I was stunned. How could any self-respecting mom name her girls after Hollywood starlets? More to the point, Marilyn Monroe aside, who would name her kids after B-level TV actresses? Yvonne DeCarlo's chief claim to fame was playing Mrs. Herman Munster on TV and Tina Louise was the
glamorous Ginger in 'Gilligan's Island', another one-and-done, ersatz 1960s TV sitcom. And, while Raquel Welch proved herself a competent Broadway actress in later life (and, guest starred in one of my all-time favorite 'Seinfeld' episodes), she's certainly not A-level material.

The whole scene got me thinking. Maybe naming one's kids after marginal actresses reflects a larger trend of Americans embracing all things mediocre? (i.e. 'Glee,' fast food, the former Alaskan governor, etc.).

If my hypothesis is accurate, why limit the name game to Hollywood's second-tier performers? How about naming one's sons after, say, obscure 19th century U.S. presidents? 'Hi. I'm Rutherford. My brothers and I were named after other, little-known American presidents. There's Millard, James Knox and my kid brother, William Henry. But, everyone calls him 'Tippecanoe.'"

And, what about utterly forgettable sports stars? "Nice to make your acquaintance. I'm Wally and was named after Wally Pipp, who played first base for the Yankees before Lou Gehrig. This is my twin brother, Donny. He's named for Donny Anderson, who succeeded the Packers' Golden Boy, Paul Hornung, but accomplished absolutely nothing in his pro career. Then there's my sister, Tonya, whose Olympic figure skating namesake's career was, shall we say, whacked?'

Imagine going through life named in honor of a second-rate actress, an unknown president or a failed athlete? Talk about overcoming image and reputation challenges.

The Colts Neck materfamilias is clearly a trendsetter in the name game. And, who knows where it will lead? In fact, I'll bet some mom is already planning on naming her brood after the ultimate Hollywood bad boys. There would be Errol (for Errol Flynn), Nick (for Nick Nolte), Robert (for
Robert Downey, Jr,) and the pick of the litter, Charlie (named for the one, and only, Charlie Sheen). Winning!

Apr 05

Can you spot the ancient ad that’s more relevant than ever?

Pic19912Pic17035This blogger’s older brother constantly bombards me with videos, tunes and other memorabilia from the distant past. I’m not sure exactly why he sends me these things, but most end up in my virtual wastebasket. This one containing the ads pictured, however, struck a chord.

As you’ll see, it contains a number of print advertisements from a bygone era. It’s hard to say which is more politically incorrect. But, there’s one ad that, sadly, is as relevant today as it was when it first appeared a half century ago. Let me know if you agree about the ad in question, and we’ll go back-and-forth on why this particular ‘wrong’ is more ‘right’ than ever before.

One other observation: these print ads from yesteryear are amazingly patronizing and condescending towards women. I find it fascinating that today’s advertisements and commercials have come full circle with many, if not, most, equally demeaning to men (i.e. portraying us as dumb, helpless creatures always in need of a woman to show us how to Pic25667survive, etc.).Pic14771Pic01869Pic26299Pic21726Pic23811       Pic26299  Pic11538

Apr 04

When It Comes to Cobras, the Bronx Zoo Is Asleep at the Ssswitch

Today's guest post is by Julie Farin, @JulieFarin.

By now everyone has heard about the Bronx Zoo’s baby Egyptian cobra – I’ll call her “Tina” (short Main-bronx-zoo-cobra for Serpentina) since she hasn’t been given a proper name yet – who went hissing and missing in the Reptile House last week and went on to become an overnight media sssensation. 

The story became national news – not because of any concerted effort by the Bronx Zoo – but because of an anonymous Twitter user who set up an account as @BronxZoosCobra, cleverly issuing snarky tweets about the pencil thin 20-inch, 3-oz. slitherer’s adventures “out on the town” after her great Madagascar-esque escape.  For example, on March 30th she tweeted: “Does anyone know if the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle sells organic mice?” and “Getting on the ferry to Ellis Island.  Let's hope this goes better than that time on the plane. #snakeonthetown

After the Twitter page was featured on local NY television newscasts and in NY newspapers, @BronxZoosCobra snared more than 200,000 followers (including Mayor Bloomberg) in less than a week.  Soon after, Café Press and other web sites jumped on the marketing bandwagon selling cobra T-shirts, mugs, and other souvenirs capitalizing on the forked-tongued slinker’s new-found celebrity (

This tremendous PR and marketing opportunity fell smack onto the Bronx Zoo’s doorsteps. It has the potential to do for the Zoo what Night at the Museum did for the American Museum of Natural History. I envisioned a paparazzi-filled press conference complete with a Bronx Zoo/Save the Cobra logo emblazoned on a step-and-repeat once the cobra was safely captured, where the Mayor and zoo officials donning cobra T-shirts would encourage visitors to meet the snake in-person (or should I say, “in-serpent”) once she fully recuperated. 

Her instant fame could be used as a unique fundraising tool for the Zoo by spotlighting her as the star attraction (think San Diego Zoo pandas) and a must-see destination for tourists and New Yorkers alike.  The NYC Convention & Visitors Bureau could even create weekend packages featuring a visit to the Bronx Zoo.  The cobra’s celebrity could also serve as an opportunity to educate the public by clearing up any misconceptions about the proper care and feeding of snakes as house pets.  (And, let’s face it, ever since that whole Adam & Eve incident back in the Garden, these belly-walkers could really use some positive PR.). 

Instead, Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny announced in a rather uninspired manner that the snake had been found…coiled up in a darkened corner of the Reptile House (
He deflected any endorsement of the Twitterer who had helped make the cobra (and his Zoo) a national story, and did not specify when the Reptile House would re-open.  However, he did say that the former fanged fugitive was nameless, and that they may consider a “name the snake” contest in the future (the NY Post and NY Daily News were already all over this, so the Zoo finally decided to partner with the Daily News for this contest).

In the meantime, @BronxZoosCobra is still tweeting in captivity (#freethebronxzooscobra), and even managed to hijack both RyanSeacrest’s Twitter account and web site on April Fool’s Day, which is only serving to make this satirical writer more sought-after…if we ever figure out the snake behind it.

RepMan readers: What name would YOU give the baby Bronx Zoo Cobra?  Remember, she’s Egyptian, yet a native New Yorker…and also has some boundary issues.  The most creative name submitted wins a (slightly-used) Prince William & Kate mug direct from the UK.

Mar 31

Keep the cheater, not the loser

Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, (pictured) Graduate Assistant for Student Media, Student Life Organization, College of Charleston.

EmilyRight about now former University of Tennessee Men’s Head Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl is probably regretting working without a contract for the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season. Monday rumors were confirmed that Donald Trump’s famous words fell upon Pearl’s ears: “You’re Fired!”
In October, RepMan reported on Pearl’s September press conference, in which he announced committing NCAA recruitment violations, and apologized to the public. During the press conference UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton stated the University had imposed self-sanctions against Pearl and his staff, resulting in limited recruitment and coaching privileges, along with deduction in pay. Pearl sat on the sidelines of eight SEC games, likely spending much of that time saying his prayers that he was going to hold onto his job a little bit longer.

But during the infamous press conference, Hamilton and UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek confirmed that in light of Pearl’s confession, the University would stand behind its fearless leader. “We sat down at the very beginning and thought ‘what is our ultimate goal?’ We want Bruce Pearl to be our basketball coach; short of data showing we have to do differently, we’re going to go into this with him being our basketball coach,” Hamilton said during an interview with Knoxville station WBIR in October. Pearl’s firing came following a disgraceful 30-point loss to University of Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament; so was Hamilton saying the University would stand behind him if he was a cheater, but not if he was a cheater and a loser?

Pearl’s termination came as no surprise to the sports world, considering one week prior to the announcement Hamilton went on a local radio station claiming Pearl’s job was on the line. Two days following Hamilton’s slip of the tongue, UT found itself embarrassed and out of the tournament following Michigan’s landslide win against the Volunteers.  So what went wrong that caused this sudden shift in administrative support for Pearl? Was it the Michigan loss, rumored reports of additional NCAA violations, or had the University been planning this all along?

One month following the September press conference, Pearl’s contract was terminated, and administration announced the University was in the process of drafting a new contract for Pearl. Pearl’s former contract, according to ESPN Reporter Andy Katz, was said to be airtight. One clause protected Pearl from termination during an NCAA investigation, and only allowed action for removal to be taken following NCAA sanctions. Reports claim that Pearl continued contract negotiations over the following months, and never quite made it to signing the dotted line, a result of disagreements in the contract’s terms. But with Hamilton’s and Cheek’s public acknowledgment that his job was safe, there didn’t seem to be any threat to Pearl’s job, right? Well, as the old saying goes, “Put it in writing.”

It’s safe to say that the crux of this story has nothing to do with the NCAA violations themselves, but simply the PR mess UT has gotten itself into over the past two years. Administration announced prior to the “resignation” of former UT Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer that his job, too, was on the line. Hamilton then hired Lane Kiffin, the first coach not from the SEC to lead the Volunteers into a losing season, who left less than one year into his contract. The Athletic Director then publicly acknowledged support of Pearl following accusations of NCAA violations, only to throw him under the bus two days prior to UT’s game in the NCAA Tournament, and then fire him with little to no explanation. In light of Hamilton’s inconsistent leadership, it’s likely that UT won’t be losing any recruits resulting from NCAA sanctions soon to be placed on the athletic program, but rather due to the lack of administrative support and transparency the University is portraying.

Saturday the University named Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin as UT Men’s Head Basketball Coach. While Martin begins to rebuild the basketball program’s image, it will be interesting to see how the University moves forward to repair its own image. One thing’s for certain: if they hire Pat Summitt to coach all sports and run the Athletic Department they’ll be making their first smart move in years.

Mar 25

Five Things We Can Learn from Elizabeth Taylor

Today's guest post is by Julie Farin, (@JulieFarin)

4113269400_5b2c627867With the death of legendary actress and activist Elizabeth Taylor, so goes the end of an era – the  Golden Age of Hollywood – when a handful of studio moguls, like Louis B. Mayer, Darryl Zanuck, and Jack Warner controlled careers, when glamorous leading ladies, like the breathtakingly beautiful Liz, guaranteed big box office returns, and when celebrity media coverage dominated by Hedda, Louella, and Winchell, was carefully managed.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor packed a lot of living into her 79 years; way more than us mere mortals. Some might consider her life a cautionary tale filled with failed marriages and endless illnesses, topped with addictions to alcohol, pain medication, and food. But I believe that we can all take away some valuable life lessons from the Oscar-winning Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky.

•    Never underestimate the power and attention that comes with dazzling beauty – and knowing how to use it wisely. 

•    True friendship isn’t measured by how many “friends,” “likes” or “followers” you have, but
by being there for Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson during their time of need.

•    Ask for what you believe you’re worth. Taylor had no particular interest in starring in Cleopatra, so she flippantly told 20th Century Fox that she’d do it only if they paid her $1 million.  Her negotiating chutzpah made her the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and the first ever to earn a seven-figure salary for one film.

•    Getting back together with an ex- is seldom a good idea. Elizabeth Taylor was publicly condemned by the Vatican when news broke of her scandalous affair with Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. Liz & Dick married in 1964 and divorced ten years later, only to remarry in 1975. However, the problems in their relationship still hadn’t been resolved, so they wound up divorcing a second time after less than a year.

•    Speak out against injustice and stand up for you believe in– even when it’s unpopular.  Nowadays, just about every celebrity is connected to a charity cause. Back in the mid-1980s, few in Hollywood wanted to be associated with the new health crisis– HIV and AIDS– which was labeled the “gay plague” at the time. But LA Liz went all the way to Washington, DC to petition Congress to fund research for cures and co-founded AmfAR.

Elizabeth Taylor was a one of a kind gem, and the world was much richer for having her in it for 79 years.  As her good friend Larry King said upon hearing of her death, “There’ll never be another like her.”