Feb 27

The publicist’s survival guide for chaperoning clients 

Today’s RepMan is by Peppercommer Stefan Prelog.

Leonardo-knife1If you’re a publicist, you’ve most likely had to shepherd clients to meetings and appearances. You are responsible for getting them there, which can be quite challenging. Prepare for the unexpected by equipping yourself with a hodgepodge of media tour essentials.

Here are 12 must-have tools that will turn you into a human Swiss Army Knife.

  1. A smartphone.  It can act as your map, restaurant guide, email and even a phone if you need to actually need talk to someone.
  2. A cordless charger. You’ll be a savior to a client who may not have charged his and is waiting for an important call.
  3. A credit card. Don’t expect your client to pay for the taxi or lunch.
  4. Cash is still king, particularly if you’re at a restaurant and need to slip a $20 to the host or maitre d’ to get a quiet table. If you’re in a taxi and the credit card machine isn’t working it will save you a trip to the ATM.
  5. Public transportation may be necessary to get to an appointment on time, so make sure you have a fully loaded Metrocard, Oyster Card, CharlieCard, SmarTrip Card or whichever card is used in your city.  And bring an extra card in case you don’t have enough time to wait for your client to figure out how to operate the card vending machine.
  6. Uber app. Know your route and make sure the driver is properly licensed.
  7. Have an extra bottle of water and some snacks on you. Don’t carry anything that’s too messy or odorous.
  8. Mints will stave off stale breath. Always carry a tin of mints and offer one as you take one yourself.
  9. A pen is one of the most overlooked items, but I can’t count how many times I’ve needed one.
  10. Keep calm and carry a spare umbrella. You never know when the weather will change, particularly if you’re in a city with fickle climate.  Unless your client is a high-fashion model, the wet look will not look so good on your client.
  11. I always carry a neutral color spare tie when I’m with male clients.
  12. A Tide Pen is very effective at getting out stubborn stains from pasta sauce to subway smudge.

Feel free to respond and let me know about any other items that helped save the day.


Feb 24

Cronkite must be spinning in his grave

cronkiteaaaFirst, we learned that Brian Williams, anchorman and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, “conflated” his multiple tales of having been aboard a U.S. Military helicopter that was hit by enemy flak and forced to land.

Now, we have Bill O’Reilly, host of the wildly successful Fox News ‘O’Reilly Factor’ being charged by numerous media outlets of hearing shots that weren’t fired and seeing bodies that weren’t there outside the Argentinian presidential palace during the Falkland’s War.

Unlike Williams, who at least made a graceful, if half-hearted, apology, O’Reilly is taking a different tack. He’s in full pit bull attack mode and firing back hard at anyone questioning his version of the facts.

He issued a statement calling one accuser, retired CBS correspondent, Eric Engberg, ‘Room Service Eric,’ suggesting that Engberg stayed in his hotel during the ‘event’ and didn’t even see the melee O’Reilly claims happened.

It will be interesting to see how O’Reilly fares with his credibility crisis.

Will Fox follow NBC’s lead and announce an internal inquiry to investigate what did, and didn’t, happen in Buenos Aires so long ago? Don’t count on it.

Although Fox claims to provide fair and balanced news, O’Reilly’s program is a nightly barrage on people, places and even things deemed too liberal by The Factor.

I don’t believe the top brass at Fox will do anything. This story may play out for another day or so, but O’Reilly will stay right where he is.

And, poor Walter Cronkite, the epitome of a trusted and objective news anchor, will continue spinning in his grave as one anchorman after another gets caught conflating events or reporting violence and bloodshed that never happened.

And, that’s the way it is, Tuesday, February 24th, 2015.

Feb 11

A day late and a dollar short

NBC’s announcement that they’d suspend Brian Williams for six months without pay took too long and did too little.

brian-williams-ISISWilliams will never be able to regain his shattered trust and reputation as a news anchor. Never.

And, six months won’t change a thing. Sure, it will remove the crisis from the lead online and offline gossip story of the day. But, the crisis will rise again like a Phoenix when the suspension ends and speculation begins about Brian’s return.

NBC should have severed all ties and moved on with Lester Holt in the anchor’s seat. Period.

As for Brian, he has multiple options for the future:

– the speaking circuit.
– the academic track.
– earning millions with an autobiography.
– creating his own trust and ethics center so others can learn from his mistake
– or, he can do nothing at all.

This six-month Twilight Zone period does nothing to help NBC or Williams repair the damage. It’s time to deep six the Dapper Dan of the night time news circuit and let everyone move on.

Feb 09

Writing pitches that don’t stink

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer and inventor of “Stink-b-Gone” pitch spray, Matt Purdue. 

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party. (I do it all the time. In fact, I’m practicing for one right now.) This guy comes up to you:

guaranteedfreshHi. Can I puh-lease talk to you for a minute? I promise I’m really interesting. In fact, I’m one of the premier providers of cocktail party conversation. So can we talk? Puh-lease?”

Now imagine you’re at another cocktail party. (You sure do attend a lot of cocktail parties. People are starting to wonder about you.) This guy comes up to you:

“Hi. Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about indie book stores. Aren’t they cool? Don’t you wish they got more love? Well, the other day I found this cool new search engine for ordering books from independent stores. Would you like to check it out on my phone?”

Granted, this guy seems a bit dorky to be so into indie book stores, but I’m trying to make a point here. Which guy do you think is more likely to be invited to join the conversation?

Unfortunately for our profession, too many of us are like the first guy when we write media pitches. We let our clients convince us that they are so fascinating that of course the media will fawn all over them at the mere mention of their name. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

As a former journalist, I’m all too aware of the stresses and challenges facing today’s reporters and producers. If you want to engage them, here are four tips to improve your pitching:

1. Listen. Listen to (and read about) what your media targets are writing about and – just as important – what their audiences care about.
2. When you sit down to write your pitch, lead with this news, not your client. Reporters are trained and paid to sniff out stories, not promote spokespeople.
3. Better yet, lead with the problem(s) that are challenging your media target’s audiences. A reporter doesn’t care that your client just published a new fat-free cookbook. Your reporter cares that her readers hate fat-free food because it’s bland and lifeless.
4. Moreover, lead with today’s news – or, better yet, what’s going to happen tomorrow. Sadly, I see too many pitches that offer up a spokesperson to talk about a general subject but forget to mention why the reporter should talk to this person right now.
5. Bring in stats and third-party support. Many clients are loath to let you mention another organization or thought leader in a media pitch because they don’t want to share the spotlight. But to a journalist, facts and trends are gold. Don’t hesitate to mention survey data or another leading voice that supports your angle – as long as they don’t come from a competitor, natch.

In short, if you want to write more effective media pitches, start thinking less like a marketer and more like a journalist.

Feb 06

Doing good by paying right

Money-Gift1I was pleasantly surprised to read that, when it came to year-end bonus time, GM decided not to penalize factory workers for the mega mistakes made over the past 10 years by top executives, engineers and lawyers. In fact, since the workers were not at fault for any of the 30 million vehicles that have been recalled in recent years, CEO Mary Barra actually gave the 48,000-strong union workers a bonus greater than their contract called for. And, how often does that happen?

The bonuses were also a smart business decision considering GM and union leaders begin contract negotiations later this summer.

The bonuses also provided a much-needed image and reputation boost for the beleaguered brand. Thanks to the oversized bonuses, GM now has a great feel-good story to tell, both internally and externally.

Barra’s decision is rare among the ranks of CEOs running large, midsized and small companies. Case in point, I once reported to the CEO of a midsized integrated agency who was notoriously tight-fisted. At the end of one year, he called the CFO and yours truly into his office, shut the door, and said: “Look, our numbers are really crummy so let’s just the three of us take year-end bonuses, OK? We’ll tell everyone else they’ll get coal in their stockings.” And, then he laughed. I must admit I was too intimidated by the guy to speak up at the time. But, I learned a valuable lesson that has served us well at Peppercomm. Beginning on day one, Ed and I always rewarded the best employees, regardless of how good or bad our financial performance had been. And, we’ve also been the first ones to step up and not take a bonus or, if necessary, put some of our own money back into the business.

Like Ms. Barra, we see it as doing good by paying right.

Feb 02

Talk about a Hail Mary Pass

OG-AD734_SuperB_GR_20150129172036Did you know that a tiny, albeit well-funded start-up named uCool.com paid a cool $2.25 million to air a 15-second spot in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s Super Bowl extravaganza! According to The New York Times, uCool was one of 15 first-time advertisers in Super Bowl XLIX, the most since the good old dotcom days.

Some of the other newbies included Loctite, Jublia, Wix.com and Mophie. Do you remember a single one? I sure don’t. And, if I hadn’t been looking for it, I would have missed the uCool spot entirely.

I did, however, notice the totally bizarre Carnival Cruise Line spot with a voice over from the late John F. Kennedy (since when does one mix the gravitas of a slain president with the fun of a cruise?). I also watched the Nationwide Insurance spot which was ill-advised to say the least. Talking about death and dying in the midst of the worldwide festival that is the Super Bowl is in such poor taste. And the McDonald’s Valentine’s Day promotion that’s supposed to bring us all together through peace, love and hamburgers was pure hokum.

But, I digress. Back to the start-ups and their huge gamble in plunking down millions of dollars in the hopes that a 15- or 30-second commercial will suddenly make them a household name. Apparently it works every once in a while. The Times cited Chobani Yogurt as one example.

But, in my mind the odds remain ridiculously high. And, you tell me, is it wise to risk one-fourth or one-half of your entire marketing budget on one 15- or 30-second spot? That’s riverboat gambling at its best. And, woe betide the marketing officers who rolled the dice and came up with craps. Their tenure may be even shorter than their 15-second spots.

In my mind there are far better, and smarter ways, to spend $2.25 million through a blended strategy that includes earned, owned and paid media. Why through a desperate Hail Mary pass when it is so unnecessary? I’ve had it. In fact, in my self-appointed role as PR referee, I’m throwing a flag at all the newbie Super Bowl advertisers and penalizing them 15-yards for unnecessary riskiness.

Jan 30

Super Bowl shocker! NFL rocked by crisis!

Today’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

Just kidding

Caught by hidden camera! Below is a pic of the NFL crisis communications staff hard at work this week.

superbowlWith Deflategate on everyone’s minds as we wade into the morass that is Super Bowl Week, I think we as comm’s professionals need to ask ourselves two existential questions: What if our client or our organization had an explosive crisis – yet, at the end of the day, nobody really cared? What if, in fact, people loved our client or our org even more?

While Deflategate has spawned innumerable jokes, puns and hashtags, the fact of the matter is that the NFL really has a very serious problem with the most fundamental aspect of sports: fairness. In almost any other industry, this would be an emergency of epic proportions. Imagine that a pharmaceutical company’s drugs were “underinflated” – that they contained less medication than promised. Imagine that an automaker’s engines actually produced far less horsepower than claimed. Imagine that a bank was paying its customers less interest than advertised.

In any of these scenarios, no matter how swift and sure the organization’s crisis communications response, it’s easy to guess the immediate impact: the pharmaceutical company would sell fewer drugs; the automaker would sell fewer cars; and the bank would attract fewer new customers.

But, somehow, that’s not the case with the NFL. The league’s fundamental premises – that teams operate on a level playing field and that any team can beat any other team on any given day – is at stake here, yet the NFL’s crisis response is basically this: Don’t worry. We are going to investigate ourselves. The NFL’s probe is being led by one of its own EVPs and two lawyers from the firm of Paul, Weiss, which has a longstanding business relationship with the league. I guess there’s no 15-yard penalty for potential conflict of interest.

But the saddest part about all this is that, come Sunday night, America won’t care. According to Yahoo!’s Shawna Ohm, Super Bowl ticket sales on StubHub are up 91% over last year. Forbes’ Jesse Lawrence reports that Super Bowl ticket resale values have already reached record levels. Clearly, Deflategate and the NFL’s tepid response are having no negative impact whatsoever on our annual football bacchanal. Which brings us back to our photo. Why should the NFL care one whit about reputational risk? Why not let the crisis comm’s team party on the beach? As long as we keep turning a blind eye toward pro football’s problems, party on.

Jan 28

The case of the missing two feet

100209_crazy_weathermanAside from politicians and NFL executives, the profession I least admire is meteorologist. These feel-good, ear-to-ear smiling types are oh-so-quick to point out when their forecasts are accurate. But what really floats their boat is to speculate on a coming weather event, prognosticate the worst and send their viewers and listeners into a positive frenzy.

Snowmageddon, AKA “The Blizzard of ‘15” offered tri-state meteorologists everything they needed to construct multi-day, 24×7 coverage of what, essentially, ended up a total non-event.

As early as Sunday, we saw intrepid weather teams interview one after another scared homeowner pushing a snow blower in his shopping cart (“Golly, I am so grateful to have gotten one of the last ones available,” he’d pant). Or, we’d see another StormTracker standing in a Queens side street, and declare, “Tim, look at this. It’s only begun snowing lightly and already you cannot distinguish where the curb ends and the street begins. Imagine what it’ll be like in 24 hours when the full force of Winter Storm Juno hits!”). BTW, why must they name these storms?

No one, though, can top WCBS-TV lead meteorologist, Lonnie Quinn when it comes to Hollywood theatrics. Straight out of central casting, Lonnie will get excited when the forecast is 72 degrees and sunny. But, when the mother of all blizzards is bearing down on his neck of the woods, Lonnie goes positively postal. He rolls up his sleeves, pulls down his tie and runs from one map to another (thereby generating tiny sweat beads which begin pour down his forehead and well up under his arms). This guy wants us to know he’ll do whatever it takes to keep us safe.

All the hype worked like a charm. Thousands of flights were cancelled, all major rail lines were shut down and the New York subway system was closed.

Today, when it was oh-so-apparent they’d missed their predictions by some two feet, all the meteorologists fell back on the same line, “Well, as New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie said just moments ago, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” And, I agree (but with a huge caveat).

The reckless weather forecasters scared the bejesus out of the metropolitan area. They forced homeowners to buy provisions they had no need to buy and they cost area businesses countless hours of productive work. Name one other profession that can miss the mark by two feet and not be held accountable. A doctor would lose her license and house contractors would be fired (“Sorry, Mr. Smith, but your roof is two feet too long.”).

But, not meteorologists. No one holds them accountable for the havoc they wreak. So, here’s a suggestion for someone to act on (or not). Create a website called www.weatheraccuracy.com and let’s rate our favorite, and least favorite, forecasters. On a scale of one to 36 inches (which is the amount of snow he predicted), I’d give Lonnie Quinn a zero.

Jan 22

Where trust, authenticity and character don’t matter

peanuts-lucy-charlie-brown-footballAside from politics, I can’t think of another field of work in which maintaining trust matters less than in the NFL.

The latest pro football scandal, dubbed DeflateGate features the New England Patriots. The charge: they purposely deflated their footballs in last week’s AFC championship game to gain a competitive advantage.

Apparently, NFL officials inspected the balls used by the Patriots at halftime and 11 of 12 were underinflated. And, an underinflated ball, say the experts, gives one an advantage when passing in wet, rainy conditions.

If proven true the NFL is considering an appropriate sanction against the Pats. Some suggest a steep fine. Others say the league should ban Pats Coach Bill Belichick from sidelines of the Super Bowl. Were I making the decision, I’d hit New England where it hurts most: by benching star quarterback Tom Brady.

Anything less than a Brady benching would be yet another slap on the wrist, band-aid response from a league that is notorious for not really caring about its image and reputation (think: Ray Rice, head concussions and domestic violence, to name just a few examples).

But, here’s the saddest thing of all: the NFL fan base doesn’t really care either. The game remains larger than life and fans still turn out in record numbers.

I’m sure someone at the NFL must care about image, reputation and maintaining trust with the consumer. But, it seems as if the conventional wisdom at league headquarters remains taking action only when public opinion demands it (and applying the mildest of reprimands).

Needless to say that sort of foot-dragging would put any other sort of business out of business.


Jan 20

96 percent of Americans can’t be wrong

titanic23n-2-webI did a genuine double take when I read this article last week. Tyson Foods announced it would begin introducing chicken as a morning alternative in the hopes it would become a staple right alongside bacon and sausage. Yeah, sure. “Ah, miss? Hold the eggs over easy with bacon. I’m in the mood for a juicy chicken instead.”

The move comes in spite of the fact that, according to the NPD Group, only four percent of Americans currently eat chicken for breakfast during an average two-week period. The vast majority of consumers, like me, prefer chicken at lunch (55 percent) or dinner (82 percent), respectively.

Nonetheless, Tyson’s is bullish about its seemingly nonsensical move. A spokesperson said, “Consumers are looking for more breakfast options.” Well, perhaps. But, chicken at sunrise? Why not meat loaf instead?

I must admit Tyson’s two new offerings do sound scrumptious: chicken sausage links with bits of apple and maple flavored chicken patties. Mouth-watering, no? I think I’d select a Pinot Grigio to accompany the links and a Sancerre to add a little zest to the patties.

I realize that desperate times call for desperate measures, but this smacks of Tyson’s doing what Tyson’s thinks is right (as opposed to listening to what the customer has clearly indicated they prefer).
Business books are chock full of examples of companies that preferred giving the customer what the marketer wanted as opposed to what the audience desired and paid the price (Think: J.C. Penney’s, Blockbuster and Wet Seal, to name just a few).

I may be proven wrong, but if I were at the helm of Tyson I wouldn’t try to sell a product or push a time slot that consumers have already made clear won’t work. Talk about swimming against the tide.