Sep 06

Jerry Lewis and Me

I was saddened to recently read about the passing of entertainment legend, Jerry Lewis.

While I was never a fan of his, I did have the unique opportunity to spend three solid hours with him in his dressing room prior to Jerry’s performance one night at the legendary Las Vegas Hilton (Think: Elvis, Howard Hughes, etc.). I believe the year was 1983.

Regardless, I found my way into Lewis’s sanctum sanctorum courtesy of a barter deal my client, Sony Audio, had cut with him and a number of other stars of the day, including: Willie Mays, Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, Mick & The Boys and John “The SuperBrat” McEnroe.

The deal was simple and straightforward: Sony would provide the stars with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of top-of-the-line professional audio, video and car stereo equipment and, in exchange, the star(s) would grant exclusive interviews with the top audiophile trades of the day (extolling the many virtues of Sony over Panasonic, etc.).

I was there to “staff” the interview between Jerry and David Hajdu, the editor of Stereo Review, and a rising superstar in his own right.

I sat down and listened as David asked his first question. Having never seen Lewis anywhere but in movies or TV, I was positively dazzled by his calm, controlled manner, delightful personality (I’d heard rumors to the contrary) and his incredible intellect. Yes, I used the word intellect in describing Jerry Lewis.

It turned out Lewis was a consummate student of anything and everything pertaining to audio and video. He loved trying the latest, experimental equipment and knew more about Sony’s models and their features and benefits that Hajdu and me combined (not a good thing to realize by a then-aspiring young account supervisor).

Anyway, the conversation finally ended and David’s photographer asked if Jerry would mind posing for a few photographs. He was very gracious and immediately agreed (even though we were less than 15 minutes before showtime).

So, he stood alongside David and the two shook hands. Then Hajdu, to his everlasting credit said, “Hey, Jerry, mind posing with the PR flack?”

Lewis nodded, walked up alongside me and, boom, instantly reverted to his nuttiest nutty professor character. It was so cool and so unexpected that I completely lost it and burst out laughing (see the accompanying photo for evidence).

And, that was that. We shook hands, left to take our seats in the restaurant lounge to sit alongside 25 other Sony executives who had flown to Vegas just to see Jerry, and watched Lewis do his thing on stage. Sure enough, he found four or five ways to include the name Sony in his various bits.

Afterword: As you may know, Jerry Lewis is revered in France, where he had been awarded that nation’s highest honors and worshiped by critics who saw him as the “Second Chaplin.” Sadly, very few other critics around the world agreed.

I mention this because Peppercomm’s very own Chief Comedy Officer, Clayton Fletcher, is a beloved star in Stockholm and the paparazzi there (I think there are three in total) routinely describe him as, “The Jerry Lewis of Sweden.”

Now, there’s something to one day tell the grandchildren.

Sep 05

Day One

It’s nice to step off the fast track every now and then to pause and reflect, however briefly, on a seminal moment in one’s life.

Today is one of those seminal moments. It’s the date in time Ed and I took the first step on a long and winding road that would take us to the highest highs and lowest lows. It’s the day we began Peppercomm. And, today we begin our 23rd year in business.

I have to say the first year was, far and away, my favorite. We started in a ramshackle one-bedroom apartment, paid our bills with $12,500 borrowed from my family, had no preconceived notions and figured, what the heck, let’s give this six months and see what happens.

And, I can tell not much happened at all the first three months. But, then, we landed two blue chip accounts that provided us with the credibility needed to open other doors and, boom, just like that we were off to the races.

But the first year wasn’t just about the business. It was really all about the small, loyal group of employees we’d hired, the tremendous esprit d’corps that existed and the single mindedness to succeed we possessed. Oh, and it was also all about the laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.

I remember year one as a time of total exhilaration chock full of priceless moments in which we laughed out loud together, celebrated together and simply chilled together. We were like a small, but elite (at least we thought we were elite) squad of Navy Seals who were kicking ass and taking names.

There was no time for politicking, turf building or agenda-setting. Instead, it really was all-for-one and one-for-all. And, prospects sensed the energy and enthusiasm and wanted to be part of it.

We ended our first full year with just under $1 million in billings. And, thanks to naming our firm after my late black lab, Pepper, we unwittingly attracted scores and scores of newly-launched, deep-pocketed dotcoms that had just arrived on the scene as well.

Calls flooded in from prospects who mistakenly thought any PR firm named Peppercomm could get the job done. And we did, once we began hiring professionals who understood the new technology and possessed media contacts in the new publications that sprung up from nowhere to cover the phenomenon (Think Business 2.0, Red Herring, etc.).

The only downside to reflecting on what, for me, was the single best year of my life, is realizing it can’t possibly be duplicated. It was what it was and passed in the blink of an eye.

And, while I couldn’t fully appreciate it then, I do thank my lucky stars every day up that I said good-bye to big agency life and rolled the dice with a guy named Ed.

Aug 17

RepTV: Trump’s a one-term president, says Professor David Redlawsk

That’s right. You heard it here first.

Join my RepTV Co-Host, Paul Merchan, and me as we pressure Dr. David Redlawsk, (Chair, Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Delaware,)  to predict the next three years in TrumpLand.

And listen closely as he explains why he thinks POTUS will throw in his 14 carat Trump-branded towel after only ONE term in office:

 

Aug 16

RepTV: Trump X 2

Please join my Rep TV Co-Host, Paul Merchan, and me as we nail Dr. David Redlawsk, (Chair, Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Delaware,) to the wall and ask him to evaluate the current president of the United States (I can’t seem to remember his name).

In part one, the good professor waxes poetic on what Trump has done since his inauguration that would qualify as good, bad or just plain evil (Note: This discussion occurred before the horrific events this past weekend in Charlottesville).

In part two, Professor Redlawsk makes a BOLD prediction that you MUST hear.

So, strap on your riot gear, batten down your Alt Right or Alt Left hatches and get ready for a wild ride…

(And, PLEASE join us tomorrow for part two of Trump X 2. It’s even better than the first go-around.)

Aug 03

I sure hope they bring back Chutes & Ladders

Did you know Americans are rediscovering and falling back in love with board games such as Monopoly? According to this article in Adweek, board game sales in the U.S. grew by 28 percent last year. And, global sales are just below a staggering $10 billion.

Why the resurgence in board games? Juli Lennett, toy industry analyst at NPD Group says board games “…play into the nesting trend. More people are binge watching and cooking at home, and they’re playing board games at home rather than going for an expensive night out. Instead of snapchat or texting, it gives people an opportunity to come together face to face and have fun.” How novel.

Many of the board game makers employ a push-pull marketing strategy aimed at attracting both kids and their parents. The Game of Life, for example, uses electronic banking cards, rather than cash and other board games are licensing popular “kid” characters from ‘Star Wars’ or Disney’s ‘Frozen.’

To date, Hasbro’s been the big winner in the board game sweepstakes. Their recent Monopoly contest to decide which tokens to keep and which to replace scored an amazing 4.3 million votes on social media. Even big name brands got in on the Monopoly token name change frenzy. Zipcar ran a #SaveTheCar social campaign and the New England Aquarium hosted a #VotePenguin campaign on Facebook Live. I was always a thimble guy myself (guess I channeled my inner female self from the very beginning).

Board games are so hot that bars are actually retrofitting themselves to ride the wave. Kingmakers, which has locations in Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis actually has board game “sommeliers” who, for $5 a player, teach and recommend selections from its library of 500 games based on the group and mood of the players. (Note: Imagine telling mom and dad that your four-year degree just landed you a gig as a board game sommelier at Kingmakers. Ouch.).

I think the board gamed resurgence is very cool (and a reminder that digital is NOT the one and only way to go when it comes to capturing a new target audience). I just hope Chutes & Ladders makes a comeback as well. I was positively addicted to that game as a kid. It always broke my heart to get so close to the top only to roll the dice and, boom, land on a chute that took me right back to the bottom of the board. I guess it was good preparation for my future career in PR.

 

 

 

Jul 21

Only the front office was white

This headline accurately reflects the near-total lack of diversity in the front offices of Major League Baseball teams AND is a play on words to one of the best books ever written about the historic Colored Baseball Leagues: Only the Ball was White.

So, how come there are so few minorities holding senior management positions in Major League Baseball? Wayne McDonnell, Clinical Associate Professor of Sports Management at NYU (aka Dr. Baseball), shares his thoughts on this, and other knotty subjects challenging baseball’s future, in the first of two Rep TV videos with co-hosts Paul “Scooter” Merchan and Steve “Choo-Choo” Cody.

Tune in for part two on Monday when Dr. Baseball predicts which teams will face-off in the 2018 Fall Classic. Sadly, he didn’t even mention the Mets. But hey, Dr. Baseball’s batting average for predicting World Series winners is below the Mendoza Line, so maybe there’s still hope for the Mets. Nah.

 

Jul 18

Loving your subject and your students is what separates the great teachers from the mediocre ones

This is the second of my two-part blog about Northeastern’s esteemed history professor, Dr. WIlliam Fowler. I had the good-fortune to study under him, and he had a profound impact on my life.   

In today’s blog, Dr. Fowler, who has just retired, shares the key attribue for a teacher at any level to be considered truly great.

“Love your subject and your students,” he said. “If you love your subject, as I did, then you cherish it, you embrace it, you want to hone in on what you think is particularly important about it and, critically, you want to share it with others.”

“I’ve been in places with teachers in which you hear them make comments about their students that are quite startling. Those teachers are the exception but, when you hear them speak in a derogatory way about their students you think, my god, the students will definitely pick up on that negativity.”

Students are like sharks, said Fowler. They smell the blood and know when you like them and you’re interested. They also know when you’re prepared and when you’ve just thrown together a couple of slides and are winging it. Students know good teachers from bad.

Fowler says it’s also critical to know one’s students. “When a student comes to you or it’s obvious he’s struggling, the great teacher needs to be a patient listener. When a student is having a hard time, there’s almost always a story outside of the classroom that’s at the root cause.”

“I never let a troubled student leave without my having made an attempt, in the student’s presence, to call someone else on campus who can help. That’s what great teachers do.”

Happily, Professor Fowler never had to make that kind of call for me. But, I would argue that the attributes of a great teacher are almost identical to those of a great leader. I wouldn’t pretend to say I’m the latter, but I do love my subject. As for the people, let’s just say I like them. A lot.

 

Jul 17

 Raise your hand if a teacher made a profound (and positive) change in your life


Over the years I’ve spoken to successful individuals about any teacher who ignited a spark that drove their success. In my case, that teacher is Bill Fowler, who taught three or four of my classes at Northeastern University. He changed not only the way I thought about history and life but also demonstrated a leadership style that I emulate to this day.

What separates this Renaissance Man from every other instructor is interaction.

I recently spoke with Dr. Fowler, who has just retired.

My goal was to learn, first-hand, how he perfected his particular style of pedagogy, what traits characterize the best teachers and how today’s crop of students compare with my generation.

Becoming Abraham Lincoln

Fowler literally brought historical figures, from James G. Blaine to Robespierre, to life. He did what stand-up comedians call “acting out.” So, you’d sit down in class and, boom, all of a sudden you were listening to Ulysses S. Grant, King Louis XIV or Andrew Johnson.

It not only made for superb drama. It made learning an experience.

Fowler stumbled upon this experiential technique working as a park ranger with the National Parks Service. “I gave talks at the Old North Bridge. There were barking dogs, jets flying overhead, all sorts of distractions and I needed to keep the group focused.”

In addition to shouting so he could be heard, Fowler had to communicate directly with individuals in the audience. “That’s where I learned direct eye contact could give them a sight, a sound and a smell. I wanted them to feel as if they were on that bridge on that fateful day long ago.”

Then & Now

As far as the difference between students in the 1970s and ‘80s and their modern contemporaries, Fowler refers to the latter as ‘The Wikipedia Generation.’

“They think everything they could possibly need to know is in Wikipedia. Period. As a result, they’re able to access information, but they can’t process it. They can see almost anything, but they can’t understand it.”

And, that’s where great teachers like Fowler fill in the blanks.

“The first thing I do, at the beginning of a new semester, is acknowledge they’ll be turning to Wikipedia for all of their answers and suggest we go there together, see what’s on Wikipedia, examine the information and analyze it.”

“My classes are journeys into the nuances of history that today’s students would otherwise miss completely if they relied solely on Wikipedia. Truth only comes from reflection and thought and analysis. And, that’s what the Internet is taking away from us. Good teachers need to intercept, interpret and, in effect, be a filter for what the students learn on Wikipedia.”

But, don’t get the idea that Fowler is down on Millennials and Generation Z. He isn’t. “Every generation suffers amnesia. They think what they’re doing today, in the here and now, is the only thing that matters. And that holds especially true for our political leaders. They want you to believe the world began on the day they took office. Millennials are just a reflection of our nation’s leadership. There are no more Harry Trumans, JFKs or Teddy Roosevelts who studied and wrote about history,” he observed.

Fowler believes his job was to make students think about what came before and put what is happening today into a frame of reference for them. He certainly did that for me.

Note: In part two, tomorrow, Dr. Fowler will address the key attributes that a great teacher (or leader) should possess.