Nov 25

Three Ways to Kickstart Your Content Marketing in 2015

BMWVintageMotorcycleToday’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

Content marketing is all the rage in our communications profession these days. After decades of putting our press releases on the “leading premier solution in the industry” and years writing Facebook posts and tweets, we’re finally starting to realize the most important driver in mass communications: the story.

So now that we are all on the same page, here are three ways to supercharge your content marketing and storytelling in 2015.

Make it someone’s job: I still see too many corporate mar/comm departments – and agencies, for that matter – with siloed job functions. One group does media relations, while another handles creative and yet another manages social media. While job specialization is still vital, putting up walls between content developers is the quickest way to kill your narrative. The smart way to avoid this pitfall is to make it someone’s job to oversee how the story is told across different platforms. This requires someone with good editorial skills, savvy project management abilities and the political wherewithal to bring together disparate groups that don’t always play well together in the sandbox. Here’s an interesting job listing for a content manager at chemical giant DuPont. While I like the job spec, I think they are making one huge mistake. This position requires a minimum of only five years’ experience. I find it hard to believe that someone with only five years’ experience is going to have the shrewd diplomatic talent to balance the competing interests of so many corporate stakeholders.

Think quality over quantity: Too often, communications professionals become trapped on the content development hamster wheel. “We need 25 tweets this week. We have to shoot at least two videos a day at our conference. We must blog five times a week to optimize SEO.” Sure, volume is important; you need to keep that steady stream of content flowing. But don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Always ask yourself what’s the most compelling, emotionally relevant story we can tell. Like the boy who cried wolf, if you are always shouting at your audiences (Do you really have to announce every new hire??), they’re less likely to listen when you do have something important to say. Do us all a favor: For one week, make quality your most important metric, not quantity. Here’s a great post from Dori Fern, who explains this much more eloquently that I can.

Keep it simple: With all the fantastic new content development tools at our disposal – from data visualization software to cheap DSLRs that shoot broadcast-quality video – it’s tempting to always push the technology and creative envelopes. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For example, someone please tell me what story this infographic on the potato lifecycle is trying to tell. Great stories simply told should be your goal. One excellent instance of this comes from New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s “Amazing Things” campaign. Just former patients in black-and-white videos telling their stories. I challenge you to watch three of these and not get emotional



Nov 20

What’s your advice?

newspaper-3Imagine that a small, but growing, manufacturing company run by a dynamic CEO has just hired you or your firm.

Now imagine they’ve set fairly aggressive media goals. They’d like to be seen not only in the industry trades, but in the most important national business media as well.

Last, but not least, you’re their very first PR firm.

Despite the odds, your team succeeds beyond your wildest dreams. Within a two-month time frame, they land major placements for the CEO with everyone from Fox Business News and CNBC to The Wall Street Journal and Inc. Magazine.

Now, imagine your shock when you receive a ‘Dear John’ letter from the head of communications letting you know he’ll be executing the 90-day termination clause in the contract, citing disappointing results.

After you drag you lower jaw off your desk, you fire back a missive, saying that you were more than proud of your team’s performance; indeed you are intent on submitting the campaign to every awards program under the sun.

When you do connect with the client, he reiterates his disappointment, adding that they’d expected PR to drive sales.

Ah ha. So, that was the disconnect. While we’d agreed on benchmarks for the campaign, we had no idea the client was counting on PR alone to drive sales. I tried explaining that PR is a superb vehicle for creating awareness, credibility and consideration, but closing sales was the client’s responsibility. Not ours.

I also asked our resident measurement expert, Nicole Moreo, senior manager, research and analytics, to weigh in. She said, “When measuring the success of a program, the goals need to be outlined from the beginning. There needs to be a combination of media and business goals in order to truly track success. The client needs to be willing to share internal KPI data so the PR team has the opportunity to make their goals meaningful to the client’s bottom line.” Amen. While we knew the media goals, we were left in the dark as to the business objectives (i.e. PR had to drive sales).

In any event, they went their way and we went ours. But, I learned three valuable lessons in the process:

– Be wary of working with any company that’s never worked with outside communications counsel. They’ll have no barometer with which to judge good, bad or otherwise.

– Be crystal clear about what PR, social media, content creation, etc., can and cannot do in terms of driving sales. In some instances, PR can, indeed, drive sales. In most instances, it’s one of many integrated marketing strategies a savvy client will use to drive qualified sales leads.

– And, finally, beauty IS indeed very much in the eye of the beholder. Where I saw Silver Anvil-worthy work, the client saw a lack of sales conversions.

How about you? Having read this scenario, would you add any other thoughts?

Nov 18

(Don’t) play like a Jet: Part II

B05P-PaCAAE5pJmHi there. Feeling rested up? Good. You’ll need it to stomach the final three PR faux pas committed by this year’s New York Jets. So, without further ado, here’s part two of Adam Giambattista, uber Jets fan and fellow Peppercommer’s list of image and reputation atrocities:

4.) Bring back the old Rex Ryan: The old Rex Ryan feared no man, made bold, brash predictions, trash talked opponents and gave one the impression that no one would ever stop him or his team. Sadly, since losing a boatload of weight (and games, BTW), the man’s become the meek and mild Rex. He doesn’t guarantee Super Bowl wins, doesn’t trash talk his nemesis, Bill  Belichick of the Patriots and no longer publicly fondles his wife’s feet (Google the latter comment if you don’t believe us).

No, Virginia, this Rex has been roped, tied and muzzled by his bosses, Woody Johnson and John Idzik, respectively. One prime example is Geno Smith. Yes, him again.

Adam’s inside sources tell him Rex had given up on Geno right after the first kick-off of the first game. Alas, Jets GM John Idzik would have none of it since he’d made Smith his second round choice and declared him “the future of the franchise.” Man, if any poorly worded statement ever deserved an immediate SEO and SEM campaign to move it down the search lists, it’s that one. Adam believes Idzik and Johnson are to blame for the dreary play of the franchise and if once again unchained, Rex would become a latter-day Hercules and lead the team back to the top. Color me skeptical on that comment.

5.) Typical Jets: Leave it to GangGreen to lose big all season long to other losing teams and then pull off a not-to-be-believed win over the mighty Steelers. Adam notes that, believing the Jets would be trounced by Pittsburgh, he would have bet every single penny in his son’s 529 college savings account and placed it on the Steelers winning going away. Instead, they broke every bettor’s heart from sea to shining sea. That’s oh-so typical of them.

In that contest, the Jets, say Adam, went back to the playing style that earned them back-to-back AFC championship game appearances. He witnessed retro Rex Ryan-type football the other day and thinks it’s a great step in the right direction (Blogger’s note: I do not concur. It’ll take decades to right this listing ship).

6.) (Don’t) play like a Jet: Adam implores anyone with the right contacts to get in touch with a Jets marketing executive ASAP and ask that the team’s slogan be changed forthwith. He believes, and I concur, that the Jets tagline: “Play like a Jet” rivals BP post Gulf Oil spill for the easiest moniker to knock.

Play like a Jet lost its relevance about four seasons ago. It used to mean playing tough, smash mouth football. But now, play like a Jet means:

–    Throwing an interception
–    Being the 12th most penalized team in the NFL
–    Dropping a guaranteed interception
–    Missing a team meeting in order to catch a flick
–    Possessing the worst passing offense in the league

Play like a Jet is perhaps the single biggest PR misfiring of the season. The words have become an albatross around the team’s neck and only underscore what once was and what most assuredly isn’t today.

So, what do you think of the Jets, Adam’s list of six major PR mistakes or life in general? We welcome any, and all, comments.

Oh, and remember, whether it’s the game of football or the game of life, (Don’t) Play Like a Jet.

Nov 14

(Don’t) play like a Jet

ny_cardinals-jets_01-480x300Despite their miraculous, jaw-dropping upset of Pittsburgh this past Sunday, the New York Jets remain a joke.

But, don’t try telling that to Head Coach Rex Ryan. He believes future opponents should fear his sad assemblage of talent. In fact, immediately after Sunday’s “big” win, Ryan said, “For people who count this team out, do so at your own peril.” That would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.

But, hold on Jets fans!

This two-part blog will NOT examine New York’s oh-so-many mistakes on the gridiron. Rather, we’ll be discussing off-the-field PR faux pas committed by the NFL’s version of “The gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

In searching for the most egregious public relations SNAFU’S of the season I turned to Adam Giambattista, an uber Jets fan and fellow Peppercomm employee.

Adam provided me with six great examples. Here are the first three:

1.) Geno Smith. Actually not much more needs to be said than Geno Smith. The words have become synonymous with failure. But, Adam added this observation: “There seems to be no passion whatsoever when Geno sets foot on the field. After one especially atrocious loss, Smith came to life for the first time this season and ripped into booing fans by dropping the F-bomb. Adam noted that Smith is being paid $1.25 million per year to be one of only 32 NFL quarterbacks and should comport himself as a professional. True that.

2.) Michael Vick: he committed a most egregious faux pas after a 37-0 drubbing at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. Vick refused to share any blame for the debacle. Instead, he told reporters he hadn’t been prepared for the game and, to pour salt on the wound, said he hadn’t been paying ANY attention at all the previous five weeks. This is a veteran quarterback? Vick is earning four million dollars this season to, as he said, not pay attention. There ought to be a law.

3.) MovieGate: This one is priceless. The night before the Chargers contest, Geno Smith was a no-show for a critical pre-game strategy meeting. What was Geno’s excuse? He said he had been watching a movie because he’d mixed up the meeting and film times and, get this, his brain was still on East Coast time! One would think Geno’s handsome salary would afford him the opportunity to buy a watch.

But, wait, it gets better. When pressed by reporters to share the name of the film, Geno responded with a terse “No comment.” As Adam points out, he personally can easily name the last five movies he’s seen but Mr. Smith seems to have forgotten the one he’d viewed only 24 hours earlier. Attention Jets team trainers: That may be a symptom of early onset Alzheimer’s.

…..Feel free to call an audible and weigh-in on these three observations now. Or, if you prefer, wait until you read the complete set in the second installment.

Nov 11

Call me Mr. Realism

Screen-shot-2011-06-07-at-5.05.51-PMGabriele Oettingen wrote a fascinating piece in The New York Times a few weeks back that really struck a chord with this blogger.

Entitled, “The Problem With Positive Thinking,” Oettingen’s article focused on weight loss programs she’d studied and how detrimental positive thinking was to dropping pounds.  Oettingen wrote, “…positive thinking often hinders us.” She also says, “Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.” To which I’d add, “Amen, sister.”

I often engage in conversations with our senior staff about a new business pitch or defending an existing client. When I think we’ve missed the mark in our presentation and suggest we move on to greener pastures, I’ll often hear, “Steve, you’re such a pessimist.”

Au contraire, I actually see myself as a realist. So instead of wasting time and money creating drop-dead creative follow-ups to dazzle the prospect/client, I, instead, choose to move on. I think it’s a much more realistic way to view the wonderful world of strategic communications.

Oettingen agrees with my philosophy (or maybe I agree with her POV). She’s developed an approach that combines positive thinking with realism. Simply put, it works in the following way: “Think of a wish. For a few minutes imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Finally, spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.” The last part is spot on, especially when pertaining to defending a piece of business.

Robb High, a new business guru, advises readers to “Never defend a piece of business. Instead, immediately resign the account and go after their competitors.” While I agree with High in general, I wouldn’t resign the account for a very practical reason: I’d want to collect the 60 or 90-days of billings guaranteed in the contract.

But, I think Oettingen and High are spot on. It makes no sense to smell imaginary roses when the odds are very good you’ll end up picking thorns from your bruised body.

And, that’s why they call me Mr. Realism.

Nov 07

Improve through Improv

improvPeppercomm is one of the few firms that actively embraces stand-up comedy and improv training. We do so for multiple reasons including building teamwork, improving presentation skills and changing our employees’ mindsets.

The latter is key because we live in a world of improvisation where the fleet survive and laggards, well, they don’t do so well (Kodak and RIM are just two examples).

I believe an organization that has comedy in its DNA has an unfair competitive advantage. That’s because, in times like ours when change comes in the blink of an eye, professionals who have been trained in improv will go with the flow, listen better and adapt more quickly.

We certainly have. But don’t just listen to me. Here’s what three employees said about their recent improv workshop:

– Sarah Sanzari: “It forces us to think on our feet. That can be applied to almost everything we do: media pitching, client calls, presentations, etc. It helps eliminate any nervousness.”

– Trisha Bruynell: “What we saw throughout our training session was that the most successful teams were those who were best at LISTENING under pressure and not talking under pressure.”

– Richard Ouyang: “Mindfully providing a ‘Yes, and…’ opportunity for colleagues to contribute to the story the group is collectively creating provides a stronger sense of team.” (Editor’s note: The ‘Yes, and’ exercise is a cornerstone of improvisational comedy training.)

Last, but not least, I asked Clayton Fletcher, Peppercomm’s chief comedy officer to weigh in. (Editor’s note: Clayton is one of only two chief comedy officers in the Western world. The other works for a nuclear power plant in Estonia where, one assumes, laughs are only exchanged in-between meltdowns.) Fletcher: “Every organization that values openness and creativity should incorporate improv into their management training.”

I’d go a step further. Improv is a game-changer and creates the infrastructure necessary for swift, effective change. While you may doubt its effectiveness, I say embrace improv or else. The brand you save may be your own.

Nov 04

It’s time to attack political attack ads

attack adI don’t know about you, but I despise political attack ads. The volume, frequency and tawdriness of the ads can absolutely ruin the viewing pleasure of anyone’s favorite program. They can also alienate a voter to the point where he doesn’t even vote. I know many people in the latter camp.

And, here’s a sobering statistic, political attack ads are becoming become more frequent with each passing election. According to The New York Times Senate candidates this year have spent some $200 million attacking their opponents — a significantly greater sum that during the 2010 midterms. Imagine if that money had been allocated, instead, towards research or education.

And, yet, according to Joan Phillips, a researcher at the Quinlan School of Business, political attack ads work. She says that, especially in presidential campaigns, attack ads will motivate a voter who was leaning towards one candidate to change her mind. With all due respect, I say balderdash.

I know countless people who are not only turned off by the ads but, critically, see their once favorite candidate in a whole new, negative light. That’s because these ads tarnish the image and reputation of the politician who’s slinging the mud; not the one on the receiving end of the barrage.

Agree or disagree with me, I’ll bet we do share one common feeling: we’re thrilled that this is the last day we’ll have to see all those nasty, sleazy ads (at least until the 2016 campaign kicks off in earnest).

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I’m Steve Cody and I approved this blog.

Oct 14

Content is the New Currency

Today’s guest post is by Peppercomm president, Ted Birkhahn.

file-60727374The content business is booming. As Kenny Bania from Seinfeld would say, “It’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

Any marketing and communications firm worth its salt is chasing a surge in interest and demand for content work. New and old players alike are trying to position themselves as content strategists and developers. Many firms are also specializing on content circulation – i.e. making sure your content gets seen, shared, etc.

But this isn’t your grandfather’s content business.

While content has always been central to what our industry does for clients, the game and its players are dramatically changing. Audiences are demanding better content from brands; content that truly makes an impact on the topics and issues that are most important to them. It’s no longer what the brand wants to talk about, it’s what the audience is interested in and where and how they are interested in consuming it. And many business executives are shunning promotional content altogether – i.e. content that sounds like marketing speak – and are begging companies not to waste their time with information that doesn’t advance the dialogue around important business issues.

To learn more about the burgeoning world of content, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Peppercomm joined forces to conduct a survey of 500 global business executives and 500 marketers about their perceptions, habits and needs surrounding content. The overarching theme in the findings: business executives want no part of marketing content. Instead, they want content in multiple forms that add substance and value to problems their organizations are grappling with every day. They need content that enhances their company’s thinking on critical issues.

According to the survey results, executives are not getting what they need. The findings illustrate major disconnects between content marketers and the business audiences they are trying to reach and influence. A few highlights include:
•    75% of global business executives report that the primary purpose for seeking content is researching a business idea.
•    Only 16% said they use content to support a purchasing decision.
•    However, 75% of marketers said that mentions of their products or services are a frequent part of their content strategy.
•    Global business audiences judge content on its distinctiveness, while marketers judge success on sales. 67% of business executives said that content that contained timely or unique information had a meaningful impact on their perception of a brand and 71% report that one of the primary reasons content from companies turn them off is when it seems like a sales pitch. Meanwhile, 70% of brands said they measure the effectiveness of their content by the number of calls from customers and prospects and 93% say they tie their content directly to their products and services.

Content creation is hard work. Even bad content takes time to create, which amplifies the pain when companies consistently create marketing copy and still expect meaningful ROI from their efforts.

Companies often ask us for advice on how to improve their content marketing efforts. We always start with the same thought: put yourself in the audience shoes and ask yourself if the content will enhance or detract from your company’s image and reputation.

It is time for companies to think more like publishers. Anything less will leave their audiences unfulfilled.

Oct 09

A sticky situation?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

hThere’s a lot of flap going around about the woman purported to be the inspiration for Aunt Jemima of pancake fame. Nancy Green, born a slave in Eastern Kentucky, ended up a free woman in Chicago, working for a prosperous man who suggested to the president of a milling company that Nancy represent the company’s pancake mix. That was 1893.

Fast forward to the 30s when one Anna Harrington was tapped to be the new face of Aunt Jemima.
And today, the heirs claim that neither was educated or savvy enough to have negotiated a contract assuring these women fair monetary compensation. But these fine relatives are stepping forward to make things right by demanding $2 million to make up for the last 121 years plus a percentage moving forward.

First, I wonder how they came at that two mil figure. Per pancake? Per serving? Is a serving one or two? What about batter that dripped on the floor? And what about the times it was used in other recipes such as a coating for fried fish? And does Ms. Green’s loving and sensitive heirs get more because their dearly departed relative was the first? Make my head sizzle on the griddle to figure this out.

I hope the judge tells these folks to take a reality bath and stop bothering the court. The very idea that someone would reach back in history and decide that their relative has been screwed out of money is ludicrous. And where have these heirs been? “Quaker Oats turned to Harrington’s youngest daughter, Olivia Hunter, in 1989, to update the look of Aunt Jemima, who no longer resembles a black servant with a red bandanna.” That was 25 years ago, and no law suit. Has Hunter been receiving residuals?

And who says these women didn’t have the capability to know the value of their time and image. I think it’s actually kind of insulting for these folks to assume they were so ignorant.

I believe these long-lost heirs are looking to make a fast buck and I hope this lawsuit gets tossed out faster than you can say “pass the syrup.”



Oct 07

Content is King

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Chris Gillick.

lebronHow much is it worth to see Lebron James play basketball twice a week on TV?

Yesterday, the NBA announced its most recent broadcast rights deal with Disney and Turner: a whopping 9 year contract for $24 BILLION through the 2024-25 season. This deal is further confirmation that broadcasters and advertisers are placing an ever-increasing premium on sports content. (Sorry Real Housewives.)  Since fans still watch sports programming almost exclusively live in an on-demand world, broadcasters are willing to pay ever bigger bucks to reach these captive audiences. Unless someone is a competing coach or scout, no one DVRs games.

The biggest buzzword in our business over the last year or two has been “content marketing.” If brands don’t create and share their content with the right audiences at the right times, they will fall behind their competition; Peppercomm continually stresses this to our clients. Sports is no exception, and leagues are hardly resting on their laurels of fan goodwill, offering more interactive content than ever before and more forms of delivery though online streaming and mobile channels. (The NBA deal addresses this change in viewer behavior in its new deal.)

Because content is now so widely available and assumed to be free, at what point are fans going to revolt at the higher cost of programming? This new NBA contract nearly triples the rates that Disney and Turner are currently paying to broadcast games, and that drastic increase will be in part borne by cable and satellite subscribers. This begs the question of how much longer fans are willing to put up with the higher costs of a cable package before feeling priced out of their favorite teams and leagues, if they haven’t been already.

But in the end, content is king, and ESPN and TNT are betting that consumers will continue to pay a ransom for it.