Jun 17

Sorry, Sam, but based upon your skill set, strengths and weaknesses, your new title will be ‘Connector.’

Let me begin by applauding GolinHarris's attempt to re-engineer its infrastructure and become  more client-centric . Anytime an aircraft-sized, holding company-owned firm does anything novel, it's nothing short of breathtaking. I can only imagine the red tape and approval process that such a Herculean effort required before ever seeing the light of day.

Slide1The sizzle in what is an otherwise purely cosmetic change is “…to transition employees from working as generalists to being designated as one of four types of specialists… strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts.” Titles such as VP, SVP and EVP are being abolished and replaced by titles like director and executive director. Be still, my heart.

New, and bizarre, titles are nothing new. Dotcom firms were notorious for them. We once worked for a dotcom called Bigfoot. The CEO called himself  Mr. Big and the head of PR chose the most unfortunate title of minister of propaganda. Ouch.

Years ago, most small and medium-sized firms tore down the walls and silos that GH is just now addressing. But, few if any, of us, chose such bizarre and silo-creating titles as 'connector.' In attempting to fix what's broken, GH will find itself with all sorts of new human resources challenges. To wit:

– Jenny, a high flying account supervisor, is suddenly stripped of her title and responsibilities and told she's now a connector. Talk about pigeon-holing a fast tracker. “Hey dad. Guess what? I'm a connector!”

– Stein, another rising star, sees himself as a creator but is tossed, instead, into the strategist bucket. Say sayonara to Stein.

– And, tell me what client would want a connector or catalyst as the lead on her team? If I'm paying serious, holding company-type retainer fees, I want nothing but strategists and creators on my team. The others be damned.

Last, but certainly not least, is the holding company billing model. Having worked at two holding companies, I can tell you that each and every office has a separate P&L, and will fight like sharks for a scrap of meat when it comes to divvying up the client dollars. I distinctly recall winning a large piece of P&G business back in the '80s while with Hill & Knowlton. As soon as we announced the win, a more powerful executive in a different office simply snatched it away. And, the client didn't care because, in those days, “no one ever got fired for hiring H&K.”  So, how does one organize the P&L here? Will strategists fight with connectors over who gets what share of the client budget? It hurts just to think about the complexities.

I wish GH well with its re-org. To CEO Fred Cook's credit, he called it “…the beginning of a journey.” I only wish Stuart Elliott (and more chief communications officers) knew two things about the seemingly seismic change:

– Smaller, more nimble firms have been doing this for years (but, because they aren't owned by a publicly-traded holding company, simply aren't Timesworthy)
– People don't want to be placed in artificial buckets with ersatz names. That connector title is a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

As for me, in addition to being co-founder and managing partner of Peppercom, I long ago added the title of 'fomenter-in-chief'. I see it as my job to keep pushing our firm to think fresh thoughts and try new approaches. But:

a) I'd never publicize it
b) I'd never try to convince the marketing world that my firm is dramatically different because we no longer have executives carrying the title of vice president.

And, now I have to run. My business partner, Ed, our invoicer-in-chief, needs to talk.

NOTE: PRWeek is conducting a poll regarding what readers think of this move by GH. To take the survey (or view the real-time results click on this link:


Jan 25

Our New Yawk office? It’s just off Toidy-toid and Toid.

In this hyper-competitive job environment of ours, it seems that regional accents can limit one’s Dialect career aspirations.

I can’t say that I’ve ever refused to hire someone because of a thick accent, but I have taken it into consideration (especially when recruiting for a receptionist).

According to a recent BBC Radio segment, more and more ‘New Yawkers’ are turning to voice coaches to help them lose their Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island accents. Note: please don’t confuse my Jersey accent with that of a New Yawker. My pronunciation of the word ‘youse’, for example, is slightly, but perceptibly, different. And, as for Lawn Guylanders well, don’t get me started.

Voice coaches say New Yawkers want to lose their accents in order to sound more worldly, a key consideration in a global marketplace. But, as I said, unless the position is that of a receptionist, I don’t know that I’d care about a candidate’s accent. After all, we have several Southerners holding executive positions at Peppercom. Their continual use of y’all is accepted by one and y’all. And, our very own Carl ‘Union Jack’ Foster’s British accent is positively melodious. (What is it about a British accent? And, why does it always sound so damned sophisticated?)

I’d like to think that, with one exception, I’m accent agnostic; the exception being a particularly thick Boston one. It literally drove me wild my freshman year at Northeastern University, and still creates a Pavlovian response akin to someone scratching his nails on a chalkboard.

How about you? Does the New Yawk accent bother you? How about that flat Midwestern accent? A Southern drawl? More importantly, do you think it should be factored into a job evaluation? I’d be interested in hearing your views (as long as they’re not left on my voice mail in a thick, Boston accent).

Sep 13

Hyperbole, superlatives and all that marcom jazz

Lost in the various trade journal hysterics about the rise of public relations and our unique  Grammar_crackers_large ability to play lead dog in the social media explosion is the simultaneous decline in the quality of the average PR practitioner's writing.

Poor writing has been the subject of numerous articles and surveys over the years. It's been blamed on everything from an underfunded primary and secondary education system to the inherent informality in blogging, texting and Tweeting. I'd agree that both have contributed to the mediocre copy many senior corporate and agency executives review nowadays. I'd also add that the word 'copy' itself is part of the problem.

As the traditional lines separating advertising, direct mail, sales promotion, digital and PR have blurred, I've noticed an alarming increase in the use of superlatives and hyperbole once reserved solely for the copy in a full-page print ad.

PR and journalism graduates from the very best schools have somehow forgotten that our press materials need to be written in an objective, factual manner. Instead, I routinely hear industry leaders lament the plethora of poor prose from juniors. They shake their heads and speak of receiving press releases and opinion pieces with endless, run-on sentences that include adjectives ranging from “thrilling” and “remarkable” to “game-changing” and “awe-inspiring.”

It's fine for the advertising and marcom types to use such hype. But, as I wrote in a recent blog ('A Wigotsky in every agency'), the generation of PR editors that included Victor Wigotsky of H&K and John Artopeous of Burson, wouldn't have permitted such an atrocity.

Today's industry leaders are not only allowing poor writing to take hold, we're enabling it. Heck, PR Week actually asked two professionals to debate whether good writing EVEN MATTERED anymore. If our leading trades aren't endorsing the need for a “back to basics, just the facts, ma'am” approach to PR writing, what hope do we have?

It's our responsibility to counsel clients on what is, and isn't, newsworthy. It's also our responsibility to write a release, a bylined article or other communications piece in a classic, objective journalistic style.

The more our product looks and reads like advertising copy, the more likely an organization is to cede control of its overall marketing communications to a digital or direct marketing shop. And, trust me, there's nothing thrilling or remarkable about that possibility. That said, it will be an awe-inspiring, NEGATIVE game-changer if our industry leaders and journalists don't step up and address the issue more seriously. Oh, and there was no hyperbole in that last paragraph. Just facts.

Sep 07

What’s In a…?

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Ann Barlow, President West Coast

Several years ago, Steve and I started collecting some of the wonderful names we’ve come across Hoggima over our years with Peppercom.  Some sound musical, others highly descriptive, and a few just plain unfortunate (Juan Bosom comes to mind). On this last unofficial day of summer, I thought I’d look through the collection and share a few of our favorites.  Our goal is to have enough someday for a book. 

I remember beginning the collection with the name of Debjani Deb, who runs EmPower Research.  I just love the idea of starting and ending a name with the same name.  Of course, that same synchronicity worked for the parents of the other Peppercom founding partner when they named him Ed Moed.   Other names have wonderful balance, even when they don’t begin and end like Debjani’s and Ed’s name.  Newman Tang, for example.  Or Willburger Udo. Very east meets west, no?

The beauty of first names is, of course, that they imply choice.  Short of a legal solution, it’s tougher to change some of the interesting surnames we’ve encountered.   Someone sent an email a couple of weeks ago with the last name of Death.  Has a certain finality to it, no?  The head of communications for Toyota has the last name of Colon.  Unfortunate, especially with all of the, uh, crap, that company’s been through this year.  Perhaps worse, I came across a guy named Bert Wank.  I can only hope he doesn’t live in England.

But my favorites are the names that are particularly descriptive.   I was copied on an email, for example, from a woman whose last name is Walkup.  I hope she lives in an Upper East Side brownstone. We’ve done some work with a woman named Paula Paradise.  Not only heavenly, but fine alliteration, too.

One of our all-time favorites almost doesn’t seem like it can be real: Diane Light Waight.   She’s in marketing, which I guess is better than, say, law.  Or medicine.  Wonder if she boxes.

What names have you come across?  Send them our way and we’ll include them in the book.

Oct 06

What’s become of short, declarative sentences?

October 6 - nerds I love undergrad and graduate students. I admire their zeal for life. I'm impressed by their technological prowess. And, naturally, I'm jealous of their youth.

But, I'm appalled by their writing. I often receive e-mails, cover notes, resumes and even term papers from students. Without exception, they suffer from poor grammar, misspelling, run-on sentences and ponderous, passive phrasing.

What's become of the short, declarative sentence? It seems to be following civility to an early grave.

Here's a typical example of some heavy-handed prose from a grad student:

'By showing how gender as a theoretical method is simply one of the many ways available to analyze and interpret the past, Scott is arguing against complacency in the historical profession.'

Ouch. Thirty-one words! Why not write this instead: 'Scott says overlooking gender's role can lead to complacency in historians.' It's short, declarative, only 11 words and makes the same point.

Ernest Hemingway was the master of short, declarative sentences. I think journalism, communications and public relations professors would be well advised to make 'The Old Man and the Sea' mandatory reading.

Copy Hemingway's style and you'll become a better writer. You'll also separate yourself from every other job seeker who uses passive, 31-word-long sentences. And, that, my friends, is a significant competitive advantage.

Aug 25

Word Police Announce Nationwide Search for the Verb “Said”

The nation’s various vocabulary, word and diction agencies announced a nationwide search today for the verb "said."

A first-of-its-kind collaboration, the massive online and offline hunt was prompted by what one wordsmith called a "total absence of a once-proud verb."Police_search_small

"It amazes me," said Dexter Poindexter, president of the American Word Protection Association (AWPA). "We’re literally witnessing a verbal ethnic cleansing aimed at what, until recently, had been a mainstay of the English language."

As proof, Poindexter and other fans of the English language, pointed to the near universal use of such substitute words as "like" and "goes," especially by the so-called Millenials.

Poindexter sighed and added, "All one hears today are young people using such phrases as:

  • ‘…And I’m like….’
  • ‘….And, then he goes….’
  • ‘….So, they’re like……’"

According to the AWPA announcement, the verb "said" was last seen around the turn of the 21st century. He appeared to be in good shape at the time and, say officials, hadn’t expressed any concern about his declining use in printed or oral language.

"I distinctly remember Mr. Said being very happy, and really looking forward to observing the turn-of-the-century celebrations with his fellow verbs. Then, poof, he vanishes off the face of the earth," noted Martha Malaprop, executive director of Worldwide Words Institute (WWI).

"We don’t know if this is a conspiracy or some sort of heinous, new type of global terrorism," said Poindexter. "All we know is that we want ‘said’ back and we want him back now. ‘Nuff said?"

Anyone with information is urged to contact the AWPA or WWI websites (both of which have added special www.wheressaid.com hyperlinks and microsites).