Jul 14

The PATH to an Awful Day

Today’s post is by guest blogger Catharine Cody.

Normally I ignore my dad’s posts about NJ Transit delays, failures and false promises, too.  But recently, the PATH service between Hoboken and 33rd street has become so abysmal, that I felt the need to blog about it.


Let’s face it. No one LOVES to commute.  It’s just something we have to do every day if we want to get to work.  As a proud Hoboken resident, I often tell people how amazing my commute to work is.  On a normal day, it’s 30 minutes door-to-door!  While on the PATH train, I can usually find a nice, clean seat and relax in the air-conditioned car for 14 minutes.  14 minutes- no more and no less.  There is an adequate amount of space for the people who make this commute, and everyone is quite pleasant towards each other.

Over the past few months, however, PATH service has slipped.  In fact, the Port Authority reduced service during peak hours by 14%.  Meanwhile, ridership at the Hoboken PATH station has increased by 11% since 2012.  To sum up, we have more commuters and fewer trains.

After a quick search on PATH’s main website, one can’t find any information about the reduced service.   In fact, PATH doesn’t even have a tagline.  Before the service cuts, I would have suggested something along the lines of, “The Luxurious Way to Commute” or even “14 Minutes of Bliss Every Morning.”  Now I’d recommend their tagline be, “The PATH to an Awful Day.”

And, it really is the PATH to an awful day, because Hoboken-ers don’t want to be squeezed into a jam-packed car.  We live in Hoboken for a reason, so we don’t have to deal with the 6 train nightmare every day.  So, PATH officials, take heed.  Give us our DAMN trains back and we’ll be blissfully serene in the mornings.  If you keep this up, we’ll all be angry New Yorkers before long.

Jun 25

You can check in, but you can never leave


It strikes me that more and more brands are promising one experience but delivering a very different one. Take United Airlines. Please!

My business travel experience has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since United absorbed Continental in a recent merger of equals (to which I reply, 'Ha!' There never has been, nor will there ever be a merger of equals). And, to pour salt in the wound, United is running a multi-million advertising campaign touting such achievements as the industry's newest fleet of aircraft, the most destinations of any domestic airline and, yes, Virginia, a solid on-time performance record. Choke me with a spoon!

In the past few weeks alone, I've suffered back-to-back, three hours delays flying to, and from, Manchester, NH, from Newark Airport, a nifty four-hour delay from Logan and yesterday's cancellation of a flight caused by what a Manchester gate agent described as, 'Weather, or a mechanical problem. It's Newark Airport, so we never really know.'

The world-weary United agent then asked if I'd be willing to fly on another airline to LaGuardia. 'Sure,' I responded. She checked the screen, shook her head and snapped, 'Nope. That flight's already over its weight limit.'

Then, my United experience morphed into an act from the theatre of the absurd. 'I'm going to try and get you to Boston!' the gate agent declared. I was stunned. 'But, I don't want to go to Boston,' I replied. 'I'm not going to risk changing planes with your airline's shoddy record.' She then clapped her hands together and said, 'Well, chop chop. Make up your mind. What do you want to do?' She demanded. I canceled my flight, rented a car and drove six hours to get home.

All of this wouldn't matter if United wasn't bombarding me with ads and airport posters containing such, feel-good headlines as:

– 'It's time to fly!

– 'Life is a journey. Travel it well.'

United is a Janus-faced organization, talking out of both sides of its mouth (or cockpit, if you prefer).

If I were prostituting myself by writing completely false copy about a godawful airline, I'd riff on the classic Eagles tune, Hotel California. With United…..

'You can check in, but you can never leave.'


May 25

Modern Britain is far from brutish

Guest post by Will Brewster, Account Director at Flagship Consulting, Peppercom's strategic partner firm across the pond

2012 is a big year for UK. Not only is London hosting the Olympics but in June we’re also celebrating the 60th year of the Queen’s reign with plenty of British pomp and circumstance. London will be full of people visiting us for the first time. The question is, will they like what they see?

No-vistirosIf you believe Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the Wall Street Journal recently, then no, they certainly won’t. If you believe him, then they’re likely to be greeted with litter-strewn streets and hedgerows, loud obnoxious youths on busses, and a population that would happily get on the first plane out of here. 

Dalrymple’s view is particularly worrying as we open our doors to the world. Already Londoners are starting to panic that we won’t cope. That public transport will grind to a halt and leave people stranded, that the weather will conform to stereotype, that busy Londoners will come across as rude and uncaring. Could he be right? Are we a bunch of uncivilised, individualistic, uncaring Neanderthals as he suggests?

I am unequivocal that the answer is “no” and I’m confident that come September, when it’s all over, Londoners and Brits in general will have done themselves very proud.

Yes, we certainly have our problems, and Dalrymple is right that many of us feel frustrated by certain sections of society.  Many young people (and some older ones), especially in cities, can be rude, aggressive and lacking in respect for authority (witness the riots last summer). We have large sections of society who drink too much (I’m not sure we’re alone there though)  and, be it through fear or a growing sense of despair, the civilised majority are now less prepared to stand up for what it right and confront people for doing wrong.  ‘Walking on by’ as litter is dropped, as fights develop or as disrespect is shown is common and worrying.

To suggest, however, as he does, that 50% of the population is eager to leave the country to escape the other 50% is absolute rubbish. If indeed half are seeking to flee, then it’s more likely to be house prices and the weather that is driving this, not the behaviour of youths on the bus or litter in bushes.   Our population keeps growing, so someone, somewhere, must enjoy living here!

A visitor to the Olympics this year will not find the Britain that Darymple describes in his piece. They are more likely to notice that here people wait patiently in line for the ATM, for the ticket machine, and even at the bar; that personal space and privacy is cherished and respected and people are allowed to live their lives largely the way they want.

Even many of the perceived failings of Londoners (a standoffishness and lack of interaction with strangers) are actually borne out of a strength – that of respect for privacy. We only ignore fellow Tube travellers, for example, because we find the thought of sharing such a small space with compete strangers quite scary. So we pretend we’re not there and hope it will be over soon!

Visitors will also notice the quiet (you can often hear almost complete silence on the top deck of a bus).  They’ll notice the mutterings of “sorry, sorry” as people manoeuvre past each other on the street. They’ll notice that, if they ask for help when lost, the British people will go to great lengths to help them find their way – the trick is to ask!

The majority of Brits are kind, charming, caring and welcoming to others. We’re a private people that happen to live on a very small island and, in London, a very congested city. The fact that we rub along so well is actually pretty remarkable.

As we welcome the world this year I think that Dalrymple’s England will not be what visitors find. It does exist in pockets, but all societies have their extremes and I hope that no one is put off visiting by the dystopia he paints.  

Dec 16

Am I the only one who still loves NY?

Take a guess where New York City finished in The Reputation Institute’s 2011 City Mountain-,,goat-1 RepTrak? Forty-ninth place.

I will repeat that: Manhattan finished 49th! So much for ‘I love NY’. Heck, if you believe The Reputation Institute, just about no one loves New York anymore.

In fact, the Big Apple barely finished in the top half of a group of cities the Institute ranked on overall trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings as well as such other attributes as the local economy, administration and general appeal.

London topped the list (and, since I’m an Anglophile and absolutely adore Londontown, I have no problem with that at all). But London was followed by, get this, Geneva, Switzerland… Geneva Bloody Switzerland!

I just visited Geneva and, if pressed to describe it in one word, I’d opt for ‘boring’ with a capital B, and that rhymes with G, which stands for: ‘Gee, what was The Reputation Institute thinking?’

According to The Reputation Institute (a former Peppercom client, BTW), there’s “…a direct link between cities’ reputation and people’s willingness to visit them or do business in them.” Oh.
Kasper Nielsen (a good guy, BTW) says, ‘”…people are almost three times more likely to visit cities ranked in the top 10 compared with those ranked in the bottom 10 of the reputation ranking.” To which I respond: balderdash!

There’s no way tourists are selecting Geneva, Switzerland, over Manhattan. No way.
Could you imagine a happily married couple evaluating the relative charms of each venue for their upcoming vacation?

Lars: “Look at this, Helga. In New York, we can choose from the new 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Broadway theatre, the U.N., Times Square and, of course, the Circle Line cruise.”
Helga: “Not so fast, Lars. Geneva has that water spout in the middle of Lake Geneva. The children love water spouts.”
Lars: “Ach. It is a dilemma. How will we ever decide?”

Sometimes, people take data too literally. And, while a city such as Geneva may poll dramatically higher than either New York or Hong Kong in certain categories, I simply do not believe that, when push comes to shove, the city by the lake is going to take tourism dollars or convention business away from its far bigger, far cooler competitors.

I hate to say this, but I’m questioning the reputation of the Reputation Institute’s City RepTrak.

What’s next? A Reputation Institute survey that reveals Americans have selected Fargo, SD over Camden, NJ, as the nation’s most livable crime capital? I wouldn’t buy it for a second. Not with the likes of Oakland, Houston and Miami in the wings.
As one of Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’ baseball managers once said of his mathematical stats showing his improvement from one year to the next, ‘Tell your statistics to shut up!” Someone needs to say the same thing to The Reputation Institute.”


Sep 02

Living Up to Its Name

This guest blog was authored by former Peppercommer, Isaac Farbowitz, who now makes a living selling medical supplies.


Friday guest post All too often, brands fail to live up to their names and promises as loyal RepMan readers know.  However, this past weekend I had an amazing experience where a brand lived up to every bit of its name and I wanted to share it as an example of a company “getting it right.” 

When it became clear on Thursday of last week that Irene was going to poke her ugly head into the Tri-State area over the weekend, my wife and I decided to pack up our six kids and head west to the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.  We weren’t taking any chances with falling trees, flooded streets and heavy rain, not to mention six kids with no TV, computer or Wii! 

The weather wasn’t that bad in the Poconos through Sunday around noon and we assumed we escaped the worst of it.  But around noon, the winds really kicked up and within minutes the power was out in the hotel.  And with no power comes a closed water park, no arcades and not much to do in a hotel for kids- at least not in any hotel not named Great Wolf Lodge! 

Within minutes of the power going out, there were announcements that there was a power outage and that the hotel was working with the power company to restore it and get an estimated time it would be back.  They then announced that there were backup generators for the lobby and hallways and that there would be a movie for kids showing in the lobby ASAP. 

While the movie was playing, they handed out bottled water, chips, cookies and many snacks to all the kids and literally had every staff member handing out beer, wine and soda to all the adults.  Once the movie was over, they put on Wii dancing and had hundreds of people dancing with staff members in the lobby.  (The picture in this blog is a photo I took of the dancing- four of the kids are mine).  The site of adults and kids dancing in a lobby during a hurricane was surreal but no one was complaining about the lack of power or the weather. 

After dancing, the hotel announced that power should be restored in the next two hours and they had a whole dinner buffet set up (free of charge) for all guests including hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, salads and drinks for all to enjoy.  Once dinner ended, another movie was put on for kids and shortly thereafter the power was restored. 

Great Wolf Lodge clearly had a plan in place to deal with a potential power outage and they executed it to perfection!  Not one guest was complaining and many were seen thanking the hotel staff for doing their best to make it the best day possible given the conditions.  Every staff member had a smile on their face as they fielded questions and they did everything they could to make it a GREAT day for guests in spite of the hand they were dealt. 

And the kicker to show just how well Great Wolf Lodge handled the storm- when we were checking out we were talking to a staff member who asked our kids “what was the best part of the trip” and the kids response: “movies and dancing in the lobby when there was no power.”  Great Wolf lived up to its name in a great way!  

Jul 27

The perfect embodiment of mediocrity

NJ Transit which, along with Comcast and Continental Airlines, form a terrible Troika that plagues my very existence, recently released its first rider report card.
The results weren't pretty, but not nearly as bad as I expected. Some19,000 riders gave the state's rail system a 4.5 grade out of a possible 10. Online performance, required maintenance and communications during serious rail disruptions scored the lowest. I'd have added surly conductors and befouled rest rooms to the list. But, hey, that's just me.
In announcing the results, an NJT spokesperson issued a predictably patronizing quote, saying, 'We're going to target specific areas of improvements.' Sure, you are. And the Catholic Church is going to embrace marriage between gays and lesbians.
Having copped any number of mediocre grades in such high school courses as algebra, chemistry and basic math, I see the marginal scores as an opportunity for NJT to come clean and launch a new era of transparent, credible advertising. I'd suggest the following headlines:

– "The rest of your world sucks. So should your rail experience."
– "NJT: Level-setting what will be just another mediocre day in your miserable existence."
– "Broken bathrooms. Nasty conductors. Delayed trains with no explanation. Living life large on NJT."
– "So, you've been battered, bloodied and berated. Get over it. We got you there. Eventually. NJT."
The survey results also warrant a rider contest. I'd incentivize NJT rail riders to identify the   Mediocre most mediocre person in their deadly dull lives.
How about the most mediocre stop on the NJT North Jersey Coast Line? The most mediocre NJ politician? Talk about a dead heat. Where would one begin?
Winners of the NJT Mediocrity contest would win an all-expense paid trip to America's most mediocre resort destination: Atlantic City. They'd be fed at a mediocre restaurant (Applebee's?), stay at a middle-of-the-road hotel (Courtyard Marriott?) and receive two free tickets to a performance by a thoroughly mediocre performer (Paul Anka?).
I'm proud of NJT. But, they need to leverage this image and reputation opportunity ASAP. How many other brands step up and actually admit their mediocrity? Not Yahoo. Not Burger King. Not The New York Mets. NJT has a once in a brand's lifetime opportunity to own mediocrity.
So, here's hoping the internal communications team doesn't suffer an unexpected delay, stop for required maintenance, get stuck inside a non-working restroom and end up missing this marketer's dream of a window.
Oh, and here's one final tagline submitted for your consideration…..'NJT: We put the suck in unsuccessful.'"

And a tip o' RepMan's conductor's cap to Greg Schmalz for this suggestion.

Jul 20

From ambassador to vigilante

When United and Continental merged, the move was accompanied by the usual marketing hoopla.  AaaaaaaaaaaaE-mails promising 'increased efficiency,' 'greater service,' and 'expanded routes' were routinely pushed to this long-time Continental customer.

But, almost immediately, I noticed a slow, but steady, deterioration. First, my long-time Gold Elite status simply disappeared with no explanation whatsoever. Then, my regular routes began experiencing far more delays than before.

But, the real clincher occurred over the past few days as I attempted to fly home from Portland, Maine, to Newark.

My original flight was scheduled to depart at 1pm on Monday. At about 6pm Sunday evening, though, I received a trip alert e-mail notifying me the flight had been canceled. No explanation was provided. A second e-mail followed shortly thereafter. It provided a URL and 888 number for me to call "…with any questions." I had a question all right, "How the hell was I supposed to get home?"

We dutifully called the number provided and, after the usual 15-minute wait and countless bilingual prompts, we reached a live person. She told us she'd book us on the next available flight from Portland to Newark. The scheduled departure time was now 7pm on Monday night. Oh, she said our original flight had been canceled because of weather. Yeah, sure.

Once I arrived at Portland airport on Monday afternoon, the Continental trip alerts began pouring into my blackberry. They said the originating flight was late departing Newark, but would only be delayed by five minutes. No, make that 35 minutes. No, wait, make it a full hour. Oh never mind, the plane just arrived. We were told by a gate agent to board immediately so as not to lose our departure slot. Yes ma'am. Will do, ma'am.

The pilot apologized for the delay, but promised the flight would be '….a very short 59 minutes.' About 90 minutes later, the pilot sighed and said, 'Ah, ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed we've been circling for the past half hour.' Damn straight I'd noticed. I was tired and hungry and wanted to get home pronto. The pilot explained that '…weather at Newark had deteriorated and that we had about 20 more minutes of fuel.' Now, that was comforting to hear. What would happen when the fuel ran out? Would be asked to flap our wings?

The pilot came back on the P.A. a few minutes later to tell us we were being diverted in order to re-fuel. Nice. So, now, instead of being home at, say, 3pm Monday afternoon I was, instead, parked on the always scenic Albany, NY, tarmac at 10 pm.

We eventually arrived home at midnight, some nine full hours later than originally planned.

As I deplaned, I noticed the countless placards and banners boasting about the United/Continental merger. They all said the same thing: 'It's not who's merging that's exciting, but what's about to emerge.' Ha! I can tell you what's emerged: a third rate airline that can't get its act together.

Sadly, Continental is just the latest in a long line of brands that promise one sort of experience but deliver a totally different one. As a result, I've gone from being a brand ambassador to a vigilante.

So, caveat Continental. I'll be gunning for you, or United, or whatever it is you're now calling that steaming mess of a merged airline. Keep messing with me and I'll keep spreading news about your delays, disingenuous explanations and diverted flights.

Epilogue: when we met our driver at Newark Airport, he asked what had happened. I told him Newark Airport had been closed because of severe weather and we'd been diverted to Albany. 'Severe weather?' he asked incredulously. 'It hasn't rained a drop here all day long.'"

Jun 29

Golden Years

174857103v1_225x225_FrontI'm 57 today. That's old. It sounds old and it looks old. As a matter of fact, 57 only looks good on  the label of a Heinz's ketchup bottle.

Turning 57 is an actuarial wake-up call. There's no denying that, statistically speaking, I'm much closer to the end than the beginning. But, to add insult to injury, there are lots of other signs that Father Time is breathing down my neck. To wit:

– An attractive young lady in a bar smiles at me, walks up and whispers in my ear, 'Excuse me sir. But is anyone using that stool next to you? We'd like to borrow it." (Note: sir = elderly).
– A friend shows my photo to her friend who responds by saying, “My, he's rather distinguished looking, isn't he?” (Note: distinguished looking = dissipated. Sean Connery is distinguished looking. I do NOT want to be called distinguished looking.).
– An otherwise intelligent intern tells me she's never heard of a DeLorean or the 'Back to the Future' movies. (Note: it's no fun to be surrounded by a whole new generation of employees who are clueless about ANYTHING that occurred before 1990).

That carnage aside, I'm absolutely loving 57. In fact, I think I've crammed more living in the past five years than I had in the previous 52.

'They' say experience is one advantage that comes with aging. But, they rarely mention another less obvious, but more important, value-add: freedom.

I'm now totally free to take risks and try things that would have been unthinkable 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier. They include performing improvisation and stand-up comedy, as well as rock, ice and mountain climbing. Toss in some long-distance cycling, gyrotonic (www.bodyevolution.com) and devising brand new Peppercom service offerings and you'll have an inkling of just how free I feel at such an advanced age.

I've been blessed. But, I've also embraced risk.

In fact, I now understand what David Bowie meant when he sang in 'Golden Years': 'Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere.'

There are two ways to go through life: you take life or life takes you. You're either a driver who take risks and isn't afraid to fail or you're a passenger who blames others when your dreams don't come true.

Whether you're 27, 37, 47 or 57, do yourself a favor and get behind the wheel as soon as possible. You never know. It might just end up being a mint condition DeLorean and you might just end up having the time of your life.

Make the most of your golden years. They'll be over before you know it.

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.

Mar 10

Law? What Law?

This is the second of two transportation centric posts and was written by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

This certainly isn’t a scientific study by any means, but I can confidently estimate that 90 percent of all the New York City cab drivers I’ve encountered over the past few months seem to New-york-cabbie-taxi-driver-on-cell-phone forget (or conveniently ignore) the law that bans cell phone use while driving (even hands-free).  What can be so important that cab drivers have to consistently talk on their phones?  Any other person making personal calls all day at work would be fired.

The law has not stopped cab drivers from using their phones, hands-free or otherwise.  It actually seems as if the problem is getting worse.  And, the drivers honestly don’t care.  They think that you, as a passenger, either can’t hear them or you don’t care if the driver is distracted and happens to crash into the car in front or completely misses your stop.

Every time my husband and I encounter someone on the phone, we immediately inform him/her that it’s against the law.   The driver usually shrugs his shoulders, says he knows and, after dropping us off, moves on to the next passenger who is forced to play Russian Roulette with his/her life unless the passenger insists the driver stop talking on the phone. 

A year ago, my husband contacted the Taxi and Limousine Commission (T.L.C.) about a different incident.  The T.L.C. asked my husband to describe the driver, although my husband had the receipt with the taxi number.  All the T.L.C. had to do was to check to see which driver was in the cab at the time indicated on the receipt.  No, that was too easy.  The T.L.C. then asked my husband how tall the cab driver was.  “How tall?  He was sitting down!”  Needless to say, because my husband didn’t ask the driver to get out of the car and check his height with a measuring tape, the case went nowhere.  You can’t make this stuff up. 

Then, this past weekend, I blew up.  We were in a cab headed home, when my husband looked over into the front seat because something didn’t look right.  The cab driver wasn’t on the phone, but he was texting while driving!  Obviously, the law covers texting as well.  As much as I can’t tolerate a cab driver being on the phone, texting really pushes me over the edge.  The driver apologized, admitted he knew about the law– as they all say they do– but just shrugged his shoulders.  We could call the T.L.C. again, but after my husband’s last experience trying to reason with the T.L.C., it’s not worth it.

In March 2010, The New York Times reported that New York City taxi drivers “gouged riders out of millions.”   So, perhaps the T.L.C. couldn’t deal with my husband’s complaint last year because it was dealing with a major issue that was clearly impacting its image. 
Image?  Did I say image? 

Speaking of which, last November, the T.L.C. issued a new and improved dress code for the cab drivers in New York City.   “Proper dress is not something that we can enforce very easily,” said David S. Yassky, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Nonetheless, we want to communicate to drivers that there is a standard of behavior, and that’s what the rule should get across.”

Yes, of course, we must be sympathetic to the T.L.C.’s plight of trying to enforce a dress code.  If they can’t enforce a dress code easily, how can we possibly expect them to enforce the correct rates or enforce no cell phone use while driving?  And, it’s really nice to know how much the T.L.C. cares about its image and has its priorities in the right order.

Unfortunately, I fear it’s going to take a fatal accident– or accident – and a multimillion dollar lawsuit– or multiple lawsuits– against the City and the T.L.C. to get them to take passengers’ complaints seriously and enforce the law (the one about no cell phone use while driving…not the one about the clothes).  But, if the cab driver crashes, hopefully he’ll at least look good when the police show up. 

T.L.C. should no longer stand for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but rather The Law is of no Consequence.