Oct 20

A salute to those who enable us to keep the lights on

Today has been declared “Get to know your customers day.”


I’m not sure who decides why each day has to have a particular theme, but so be it.

It goes without saying that customers are the lifeblood of any business and, as is the case in any relationship that matters, client relationships need to be nurtured, nourished and cherished.

We get to know our customers in three distinct ways:

1.) We take a deep dive into their business model and, in the instances where they’ll allow it, tag along on sales calls so we can hear, first-hand, what THEIR customers’ wants and needs are. It’s an extremely effective way of fine-tuning our communications programs.

2.) We put ourselves in our customer’s customers’ shoes and experience a client’s value proposition from the outside in. So, we examine each and every virtual and physical client ‘touchpoint’ and evaluate the experience. Our employees become the target audience and, more often than not, uncover one or more serious disconnects between what our client promises and the end user actually experiences.

3.) We meet on a regular basis with CCOs and CMOs from various industries and ask them what’s keeping them awake at night, how mobile is influencing their decision-making, etc. We then put these findings together in an anonymous white paper and share it with our customers, who are often too tied up in their own worlds to keep track of what their peers are doing.

It’s a three-step process that seems to work very well. It’s also been central to our maintaining so many client relationships for so many years.

So, tell me, how do you get to know your customers?



Oct 19

A book that informs and makes you laugh out loud? Say it ain’t so

51b1eALnuAL (2)Aside from every book written by Christopher Buckley, and Stanley Bing, I’m hard pressed to name another author who possesses the gift to inform and elicit an LOL at the same time.

My longtime buddy, Chris Atkins, has just penned such a book. It’s called, “An Honest Day’s Work: True Tales of a Life in PR“.

But, don’t be misled by the rather myopic title (Sorry, Chris, I couldn’t help myself).

This is a MUST read for anyone and everyone who hopes to understand the ever-changing media landscape and, critically, how we arrived at the sad, sorry state in which we find ourselves.

Atkins’ tome (that apostrophe was you, Chris), follows a 35-year-long career path that includes stints at some of the world’s most admired corporations and global agencies.

If technology hates you as much as it does me, you’ll immediately relate to young Chris’s struggles to bang out a press release on a 1981 Smith Corona typewriter missing the letter ‘e’.

Then, in the blink of an eye, you’ll be standing alongside him as he singlehandedly serves as lead FedEx spokesperson in the immediate aftermath of an overnight plane crash at Newark Airport. He handled no fewer than three live CNN interviews. Talk about intense.

Chris was also front-and-center as the housing bubble burst and found himself defending Standard & Poor’s ratings. Ditto with his various misadventures at PwC and their misbehaving partners.

The beauty of these insightful stories is the way Chris balances them with laugh out loud funny anecdotes about abusive clients, alcoholic co-workers and, yes, Mr. Trump, sleazy reporters.

This is a book that is wise and witty (and an uber easy read to boot). I’d suggest every PR academic make it required reading for their PR industry wannabes. I’d also recommend B-School professors and Harvard Law types do the same since, as Chris points out, corner office executives and legal eagles alike are pretty much clueless about the multiple aspects of modern public relations.

One final note: While it’s limited to a scant and frankly, disappointing, three pages, this blogger plays a cameo role in the very beginning of Honest day’s work. And, really, how could I not rave about any book that doesn’t shine the spotlight (however briefly) on me?



Oct 17

The power of self-deprecating humor

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersOne of the hallmarks of great business leaders (and presidents) has always been their ability to laugh at themselves (especially in times of crisis).

When it comes to politics in particular, self-deprecating humor has enabled many a commander-in-chief to project authenticity, humanity and likability (while helping to diffuse the crisis du jour).

My personal favorites include Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Reagan and, believe it or not, W.

Each had the ability to find the humor in a head-on assault from the competition and, in one, way, shape or form, pivot by poking fun at himself.

Reagan’s rebuke to skeptics who suggested he’d lost touch with reality during the 1984 debates may be my all-time favorite example:

Many political pundits believe that single, self-deprecating statement re-elected Reagan.

I raise the subject of self-deprecating humor for two reasons:

1.) Trump’s total lack of self-deprecating humor is one of his most serious character flaws. Instead of deflecting, and redirecting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by laughing at his own flaws, The Donald goes postal (Note: I’m not suggesting he could, or should, make light of the sexual assault accusations, but there have been countless, previous missed opportunities he could have used humor as a weapon).

Most recent case in point: The Donald’s Sunday morning Tweet lambasting the laugh-out-loud funny Saturday Night parody of the most recent presidential debate. I thought it was balanced and poked fun at both candidates in hilarious ways. But, Trump disagreed, and missed a huge opportunity to share in the absurdity of it all. Instead, he lashed out at SNL and Alec Baldwin alike. Very bad move.

2.) I’ve based my entire career on self-deprecating humor and have used my “Expect Less” motto in both personal and professional settings. It enables me to inject humor in a presentation or performance by saying, “Hey, I warned you.”

While I’d never suggest I’m a great, or even decent leader, my self-deprecating humor has served me well over the years and, in fact, permeates our firm’s culture and has helped us win countless workplace awards (insert latest Fortune citation).’

Students of political history, communications or business in general should study a leader’s response to a crisis. His or her ability to show humanity, authenticity and, yes, self-deprecating humor separates the good from the great. Or, if you prefer, the least likable from the less-than-least likable.




Oct 14

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

rudyHave you noticed the increasingly bizarre role Former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, has been playing in the psychodrama otherwise known as the Trump campaign?

Forever linked to his masterly management of the Big Apple’s post-9/11 response, Rudy’s political aspirations for higher office have nonetheless been limited to a single issue: security/law & order.

And, make no mistake, Trump’s selection of Rudy to add credibility to the candidate’s anti-terrorism policies paid dividends throughout the primary process.

But, in recent weeks, as one Bill Cosby-type sexual allegation after another has sidelined, if not derailed, the Trump Express, Rudy has been wasting precious time defending Donald’s indefensible behavior. He’s gone off-message.

In fact, based upon his own personal track record, Giuliani brings about as much credibility to the predator discussion as Hugh Hefner would have as a character witness in the Gary Wendt/GE Capital divorce trial (Millennials: Please Google for additional information).

Rudy’s increasingly histrionic condemnations of the accusers and strident defense of Trump’s innocence are a colossal public relations blunder.

A solid campaign is driven by subject matter experts who can create awareness and establish credibility in multiple areas of interest to the target market with which a client wishes to engage.

It’s no longer enough for a global powerhouse to select a lead spokesperson to address macro issues. She MUST be surrounded, and supported, by other executives with expertise in everything from key vertical industries to the most arcane rule or regulation.

With Chris Christie now gridlocked by the latest Bridgegate developments, Giuliani stands alone as Trump’s lead proxy on an issue that could very well still make a dent in the undecided voter’s mind: terrorism.

And, yet, Rudy rants and raves about “false” molestation charges for 10 minutes before introducing Trump, who spends the next 45 minutes ranting and raving about the very same accusations.

When the post mortems are being held at Trump Tower on November 9th, rest assured that Rudy will take a bullet for straying off-message and missing opportunity after opportunity to drive home the ticket’s legitimate expertise on arguably THE most immediate issue of the day.

C’est la guerre.


Oct 11

Have we come a long way, baby?

1951 reduxI’m honored to be a board trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, a member of the Arthur W. Page nominating committee and one of the 12 original founders of the PR Council.

But, let’s face it folks, while PR has made enormous strides in the 65 years since this photograph was taken (note the arrow pointing to PR’s position in the agency presentation), FAR too many client organizations still see PR as a me-too, tactical bolt-on to their strategic marketing programs, an unwanted overhead expense and the very first area to downsize in recessionary times.

Comments welcomed…

Oct 04

It’s your reaction, stupid!

Today’s guest post is by  Nicole Newby and Samantha Bruno, Peppercomm’s Intern Committee Co-Coordinators.

twitter_battle_a_l (1)We all have horror stories about roommates, classmates, colleagues, the guy sitting next to us on the bus…the list goes on. But we never thought to vent our frustrations on Twitter. We aren’t Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We prefer to address our quibbles in person. Jessica and Nikki, though, identified more with the latter.

Jessica and Nikki were roommates at Penn State who clearly did not pass any kind of compatibility test. Nikki took to Twitter first to air some of her grievances. Jessica later found the tweets and posted a few of her own, which escalated the roommate arguments to a global level, even inviting police involvement.

When Steve Cody asked if we would hire either of them as interns, our collective initial reaction was: “No way!” Simply put, we would never hire someone who blatantly can’t get along with other people for a position that relies so heavily on teamwork.

But upon further thinking, we took a step back. This situation is a microcosm for exactly what we do every day in the office—crisis management. Sure, none of our clients (at the moment) are in the hot seat for something as ridiculous as tweeting a screenshot of other tweets about their annoying coworker’s desk lamp or drug habits, but they are dealing with mistakes and facing public scrutiny for them. One of the most important points we always emphasize with clients in crisis situations really stood out to us while reading the article: You won’t be judged on the crisis. You will be judged by how you respond to it.

That means that right NOW is the critical moment for both Jessica and Nikki. Let’s take a quick look at how they’ve reacted so far:

  • Jessica: Adding fuel to the fire, she gives an interview to the Washington Post and allows them to use her last name.
  • Nikki: Recognizing the repercussions on her reputation, she refuses to continue engaging in the situation.

They have both acted on extreme ends of the spectrum, but has either issued an apology and taken responsibility for their actions?

The jury is still out on this one. We’re waiting to see how they work to rectify the situation to improve their personal brand. If either one can do this successfully, we would absolutely consider hiring her. There’s no better way to exemplify your value as a PR and communications professional than single-handedly managing a public crisis.

A side bar PSA to all the high school and college students out there before we sign off – As the power of social media grows, so does the breadth of available channels for individuals to communicate their every thought and movement.

We are not sure that young people fully understand the repercussions of that. Perspective employers, including us, utilize Google during the hiring process, so think twice before you air out all of your dirty laundry. While a post may seem to have a short lifespan and anonymity on social media, don’t fall asleep under a false sense of security. What you put out there, could come back to haunt you, jeopardizing future professional opportunities. That may not be your top priority in high school, but it should at least be on the list.  Trust us when we say, most of the time, we’d much rather just read about what you ate for dinner.


Oct 03

An accident waiting to happen

hoboken-nj-transit-train-crash-maps-1475163112197-master495-v2I naturally wanted to wait a few days to pass before opining on the terrible New Jersey Transit tragedy that left one person dead and scores of others injured this past week. And, no one is still sure whether the engineer is fault, the equipment wasn’t functioning or Amtrak/NJT simply decided not to fund the automatic braking system that would have prevented this bloody nightmare in the first place.

I must admit to having a knee-jerk reaction when I first heard the news: It was a combination of horror and resignation, but most certainly not shock.

NJTransit has been a favorite target of mine; I’ve blogged, Tweeted, posted photographs on FBook and Instagram and even included NJT in my stand-up comedy routine. But the accident was most definitely NOT a laughing a matter.

But, if any accident could be seen happening years in advance, it was the one in Hoboken.

For years, I’ve:

– Ridden on decrepit, ill-kempt passenger cars that were filled with litter.
– Sat on trains that were stuck at a full-stop.
– Avoided restrooms that doubled as cesspools.
– Been barked at by morose and sullen conductors.
– Been frustrated by the near total lack of communications on delays, cancelations or other matters of import.
– Waited patiently as rookie engineers routinely undershot, or overshot, station platforms (note: this was a weekly, if not daily, occurrence)

The latter always elicited a head-shaking, Donald Trump-like sigh from me, but I never imagined it would one day lead to tragedy. It was quite clear the engineers were inept when it came to safely easing their massive engines and precious cargo into a station. But, I figured well, one day, they’ll get it right. And, then there were the times when a train came whizzing into Penn Station, making me wonder how on earth the engineer would brake the cars in time for a safe stop.

And, don’t get me started on NJT’s hub, Penn Station. It’s easily one of Manhattan’s worst eyesores.

All of that spoke to me of a management that simply didn’t care, wouldn’t invest the money to upgrade its transportation or, more importantly, properly train engineers and conductors on everything from driving and maintenance to courtesy and professionalism.

Sometimes, you can spot an accident waiting to happen just by the way a business comports itself. Sadly, NJT was a case in point.

In this case, my only question is: How come it took so long?

Here’s hoping the tremendous image and reputation hit will knock some sense into NJ Governor Chris Christie and the ineffectual management at Amtrak/NJ Transit. I think it will. But, why does it always take a tragedy to force change? This one was years in the making.

Sep 28

How come?

c452279cc538120aa9fe397f96351cacHow come the countless incendiary comments made by a certain presidential contender are not only found acceptable by 50 percent of the electorate, but applauded for “telling like it is?”  I ask because, if any one of those racial, gender and religious slurs were to be uttered by any CEO of any company in America, there would be immediate consequences.

Could you imagine GE’s Jeff Immelt calling his CMO “Miss Piggy?”

How about Mark Zuckerberg telling his Latino and black employees their neighborhoods are “hellholes”?

What about Jamie Dimon informing Muslims employees at JP Morgan Chase he’d be working with community leaders to close their mosques?

I guarantee the boards of GE, Facebook and JP Morgan Chase, respectively, would demand their immediate resignations. And, I’d be willing to bet a large portion of said presidential contender’s base would be fully supportive of penalizing such unacceptable behavior.

So, why don’t the same rules apply to the man running for chief executive of our country? How can any minority voter whose sensibilities have been repeatedly attacked still stand by their man? It defies logic. And, yet, there it is.

The larger question I’m grappling with is this: If the presidential contender should be sworn in as our next president, will he advocate for a return to the future when it comes to political correctness in the workplace?

Will he lobby for banishing the ethics and moral codes that guide many (but, not all) of America’s business and industry?

And what about his base? Will they think it’s now acceptable to behave like Don Draper, Roger Sterling and Duck Phillips (love, love, love the nickname Duck, BTW)?

I miss quite a bit when it comes to pundits weighing in on the circus-like spectacle that is the presidential election. But, I’ve yet to hear anyone opine on the possible return of crassness in Corporate America.

Fully half of the electorate want change. And they want it now. But, will that change also include turning back the clock 60 years when it comes to how we treat one another at work?

I worry because when the leader leads, the followers follow.

Sep 26

Country of Sedition

6776b7aedad6447b87ee01c5e20904b2I’m whipping through a fascinating new book, “City of Sedition – The History of New York City During the Civil War” by John Strausbaugh.

While I fashion myself something of a Civil War and New York City history buff, I kid you not when I say I’m learning two or three new facts every single page.

The most striking thing about the book, though, is its timeliness.

I know the expansion of slavery into newly-admitted states was the cause of the Civil War. I also know about the bloodshed in Bleeding Kansas and elsewhere.

But, I was unaware of the pure hatred between longtime friends and family members that existed well before the war. While nearly every white person North and South viewed blacks as an inferior race, many, but not all, Northerners saw slavery as abhorrent. In fact, there were multiple factions within the North (and, in particular, New York City) who were fully committed to supporting the Southern cause prior to, and during, the war.

Surprisingly, the Big Apple’s Southern sympathizers were a mix of the one-percenters and the lower class of the day (sound familiar?). Manhattan’s merchants were making an absolute killing importing cotton from Dixie and then shipping it to Europe on ship after ship.

NYC’s other Southern sympathizers were the Irish Catholics. They’d already seen free blacks take away their low-paying jobs and worried that, once freed, slaves would take away whatever other low-paying gigs were left (again, sound familiar?). The Irish Catholics hatred and fear of blacks would lead to a week-long riot in Manhattan in 1863.

We’re surrounded by the same level of fear and hate today. We live in a country of sedition where supporters of Trump and Clinton shout and scream at each other in arguments that often escalate to fisticuffs.

I experienced this first-hand about a month ago when I dined with my 96-year-old dad who, while amazingly vital mentally and physically, espouses political views that would shame David Duke.

I was countering his more outrageous statements when a soccer mom stormed up to our table, poked me in the arm and said, “You are beyond ignorant. You’re a traitor and you’re supporting a traitor for president!” I tried to ignore her but, in a flash, her burly husband stormed our table as well.

“You giving my wife lip, a*shole?”

Keep in mind that I was with my 96-year-old dad and, at the time, was sporting an ankle-to-hip leg brace.

I took a deep breath, grabbed the table and lifted myself up. “Look buddy,” I said, if I had two legs and wasn’t with my dad, I’d be happy to take the conversation outside.”

At this point, the aggressors realized the entire restaurant had grown silent. The thuggish husband surveyed the scene, looked at my leg brace, glanced at my dad and then grabbed his wife. As he walked he away, he shouted, “We don’t talk to traitors!”

The issues have changed, as have the players. But, make no mistake. We are once again headed on a collision course between two completely different mindsets that will forever change the country in one way or another.

Lincoln preserved the union in 1865. I just don’t see anyone doing the same in 2016.

Sep 20

The Deplorable Prospect: After Word

BULLIES 4Since so many of you were kind enough to weigh-in yesterday with your thoughts on the increasingly boorish behavior of prospective clients, I thought I’d share the ending of the sad tale I had told.

As expected, we revived a ‘Dear Agency’ letter which, although sanitized to protect the names of the guilty, will provide insight into the sleazy underbelly of PR that our noble trade media pretend doesn’t exist.

Keep in mind, this Dear Agency form letter was received more than two weeks after the prospect had demanded fresh ideation the afternoon after we pitched them the morning on that same day.

We complied, and then our point person placed countless follow-up e-mails and voice mails that were completely ignored. It was painful to be copied on his numerous attempts and scan the in-box for some sort of acknowledgement.


And, then this letter arrived yesterday (the date of the product launch they had originally asked us to pitch. I thought the timing of the note was a particularly sleazy aspect to the entire deplorable affair).

Anyway, please read on (and, weigh-in with comments). I especially enjoyed David Baker’s tongue-lashing about playing right into the prospect’s hands and not “interrupting the entire RFP process as so many others have.” That elicited a hearty LOL from this blogger:


Thanks for participating in our search for a new PR partner.

We appreciate the thoughtfulness of your submission and the timely manner in which you returned everything. We also very much enjoyed meeting with you and meeting your team in New York at your office.

It was a hard decision and it ultimately took us a little longer than expected to make a decision as we wanted to be thorough in our approach.

As a result, we have decided to go with another partner who more closely aligns with our strategic needs at this time.

Thank you for your time and best wishes in the future.