Apr 21

What, me worry?

Stress CareerCast.com has just confirmed what many of us in the wonderful world of public relations already knew: we work in a highly stressful field. In fact, according to CareerCast.com, PR is the SECOND most stressful occupation in America, landing just behind commercial airline pilot. 

In its rankings, CareerCast evaluated 11 different factors such as: work environment, job competitiveness, physical demands (I'll say. Laptops must weigh, what? Two pounds or more? Talk about heavy lifting), deadlines, on-the-job dangers (our men's room would certainly qualify) and even the job's growth potential.

Zeroing in on PR, Publisher Tony Lee said PR people are '….completely at the mercy of their clients and buyers.' He notes that '….the average PR person's success or failure depends on the actions and decisions of clients, creating a stressful situation because their performance is in many ways out of their hands.' To which I say, 'Amen, brother.'

But, CareerCast really only scratches the surface. Sure, there's a lot of stress in PR, but it varies widely. For example:

– There's far more stress in corporate PR jobs because, for the most part, PR is seen as an 'overhead expense' and, along with human resources, is always the first to be downsized in lean times.

– Big holding company PR firm cultures exude far more stress for myriad reasons that include, but are not limited to:

A) Having to simultaneously serve multiple masters (the holding company CEO, the client and the various predators circling the agency's shark-infested waters looking to consolidate their power bases).

B) Having to walk away from countless new business opportunities because of existing conflicts.

C) Trying to stand out from hundreds, if not thousands, of peers. Being a small fish in a large, politically-charged pond is no fun (I know. I experienced it first-hand at Hill & Knowlton in the early 1980s).

That's not to say that life at an independent, midsized PR firm is a bowl of cherries. Far from it. But, we do exercise a far greater degree of control over our fates. And, in periods of growth, I can't think of a better place to be.

All that said, it took me many moons to figure out I needed a personal escape valve to deal with stress. That valve now includes ice, rock and mountain climbing, cycling, running, stand-up comedy and gyrotonic (check out the latter, btw. I highly recommend it for stress reduction).

PR is stressful. But I'd never equate it with piloting a commercial airliner. While some agency leaders may think they make life and death decisions every day, they don't. There are no 'Sully's' in PR who have miraculously managed to land a jet in the middle of the Hudson River. Our occupation just isn't that bad.

Nor is PR as stressful as some of the occupations rounding out CareerCast's Top 10 list: photojournalist, emergency medical technician or newscaster.

And, I wasn't too impressed with the web site's 10 least stressful jobs either. Dental hygienist, occupational therapist and chiropractor finished fifth, ninth and tenth, respectively. All three require a thorough knowledge of the human anatomy and, while not akin to open heart surgery (and, no one can convince PR is more stressful than operating on someone else's heart), things can go south very quickly if one of these health care providers either injures a patient or, worse, happens to be practicing their craft when the patient goes into cardiac arrest.

So, thanks for the PR profession shout-out, CareerCast, but I suggest you either 're-cast' your methodology, examine the 'real' life-and-death occupations within the medical field and do a better job of segmenting the PR profession. While I wouldn't want the stress of running a global holding company PR firm or reporting to a hard-charging, unpredictable Fortune 500 CEO, I'm really enjoying my life in the independent midsized world.

I have stressful days, but I've yet to find myself on final descent into Reagan National Airport only to discover the air traffic controller is fast asleep. Now, that's what I call stress.

Mar 23

Boys Meet Girl

Today's guest post is by Frieda Smason, (pictured) a senior at Stern College – Yeshiva University.

Last week I learned about the effectiveness of humor in the workplace from Steve Cody,  Frieda11 professional comedian and “PR man” (a.k.a. co-founder of Peppercom) who came to speak to our class at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. We participated in a series of exercises that are designed to help you loosen up in front of a crowd. Then, each person got up in front of the class and told a short story about something that really bugs them. The goal of the exercise was to make you realize how well humor and business complement each other when you harness humor properly.

I’ll tell you something not so funny – I work in an office where I am the only woman. That's right – every single person there is male aside from me. The implications of this are very serious: no skim milk in the fridge – ever! Everyone in the office is at least a foot taller than I am, so the paper towels in the kitchen are always just a little too high for me to reach. The announcement board has "funny" jokes about guy things like "The top ten reasons beer was created." And of course, the toilet seat is, without fail, always up.

Trust me; I didn't think any of these things were funny before Steve gave us the comedy workshop. Living in an apartment with female roommates, I'm used to having at least three people always say "God bless you" when they hear me sneeze and, of course, girls discussing  drama about boys all the time.

Now I work in the heart of the "boy drama," where I’ve learned that boys aren't that dramatic – at all. I'm slowly realizing that it’s the girls who make all of it up. Guys just like to sit at their computers and eat take-out. I tried to make small talk once at the water cooler by asking someone how their weekend was. His reply? "Bad."

The story I told in front of my class was about a prank one of my co-workers played on me. The short version is that he sent me an email from my boss's phone saying that I had violated company policy and I was going to be terminated if I didn't mend my behavior immediately. When it happened, it was terrifying, but after telling the story in front of the class I realized how funny it actually was.

It's crazy that telling a two-minute story in front of my peers seemed more daunting than handing over a business presentation to my boss, but now that it's over I know that I can do anything – aside from reaching the paper towels at work.

Mar 17

Hey Mick! Ready to do four miles?

I start nearly every Saturday and Sunday with a five-mile run. Then, to prep for upcoming  climbs,   I don a 50-lb weighted vest and take my dog, Mick, for a four-mile walk.

If you think my fitness routine is excessive, think again. A new survey shows that dog walkers are much more active overall than people who don't have dogs.

Mick runningAccording to a Michigan State University study of 5,900 people (2,170 of whom were dog owners), pooch people had higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activity than the other subjects, and they were more likely to take part in other leisure-time physical activities as well. On average, dog walkers exercised about 30 minutes more a week than people who didn't have dogs.

There's no doubt in my mind that my 'value add' walk with Mick has only heightened my fitness levels. And, check this cat lovers, a different study showed that dog owners were 60 percent more likely to walk for leisure than people who owned cats (put that in your kitty litter and smoke it!).

All this positive pet news has sparked an idea. Why don't McDonald's and other purveyors of empty, calorie-laden fast food partner with local rescue shelters? That way, as soon as a Mickey D patron packs on, say, 1,200 unneeded calories, he or she can burn them off by taking a brisk walk with Fido. And, who knows, maybe man and canine will bond along the way and, voila, there will be one less homeless dog in the world. They could call the program McRescue. (This has Silver Anvil Award written all over it.)

But, enough free ideas for the empty calorie folks. Mick's giving me that look again. He knows his Saturday walk is just hours away. Soon enough, he and his master will be panting away.

Jan 28

Comedy, Internships, and PR

Today's guest post is by Peppercom intern Nick 'the Knife" Light.

Recently my boss, Steve “Repman” Cody, was generous enough to treat me and several of my young colleagues to a night of stand-up comedy. The comedian? None other than Steve Cody himself.

Steve Steve explained to me and my young colleagues that attending one of his stand-up gigs is “a rite of passage.” But, I was thinking that there could be a potential for this “passage” to be more like that of a kidney stone than the kind where a young man emerges a proven warrior (or any other similarly awesome passage). (Note: The drawing to the left is not Steve Cody. I imagine someone like this to be at an awesome rite of passage ceremony.)

Don’t get me wrong, contrary to what people say about Steve, he is actually a pretty nice guy. But, other than fun-yet-safe office humor, I had never heard Steve’s jokes, and had no idea if he would be funny. Would that have been a problem? Not really. The potential negative was simply the lack of a positive: if Steve proved himself under the stage lights, I would confer secret points upon him as a boss.

Here is the part of the post where I tell you that I am a newly-hired PR intern at Peppercom. Why does that matter? Although I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, the situation seemed to hold the potential for some kind of teacher-to-pupil imparting of lessons. You know how it works. If I study the comedy routine hard enough, I’ll see some stroke of genius either in the message or the act of the performance.

I’m not going to pretend to know more about PR than I do. I’ve learned a ton so far, the work is exciting, and I hope to continue to learn. But, I have no idea how Peppercom stacks up against others in PR with respect to our professional reputation, work environment, or…… ummmmmm…… remuneration.

I guess what I’m saying is that, right now, it’s good to see that one of the founding partners (of the company at which I landed an internship) sometimes gets on stage and tells jokes. In all seriousness, I think it bodes well for my future, as well as those of others here at Peppercom. If that’s the message Steve was trying to impart to us young minds, he succeeded.  I won’t hold it against him that I didn’t get some of his Jersey jokes. What can I say? Most New Yorkers don’t even think people actually live in the Adirondack Mountains, where I grew up.

Jan 18

All work and no play…

Today's guest post is by  Catharine “Goose" Cody.

I have the best mother ever.  I’ve always known that. But, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua just confirmed it. 

Me and mom In her piece, entitled: ‘Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior’,  Chua describes parenting customs that are inherent in the Chinese culture, but missing in most Western homes.  For example, Chua says she never allowed her children to attend a sleepover, have play dates, act in a school play, watch television or achieve any grade lower than an A. Talk about all work and no play making Jack a dull boy!

Chua insists these strict rules are the reason why her daughters are successful.  Had she not been such a stern taskmaster, Chua writes, her kids wouldn’t be performing at Carnegie Hall or consistently finishing first in their respective classes.

That may be true. But, in my opinion, the Chua children undoubtedly missed out on some of the best parts of childhood.

My brother, Chris and I, grew up in a fairly lenient household. Our parents encouraged, rather than forced, us to pursue our dreams.  We were permitted to sleep over at a friend’s house, perform in talent shows, and even, dare I say it, bring home grades of B, and lower! 

Chris and I are turned out to be pretty normal kids (at least in my mind). And, we did very well academically.  As far as how we’re doing professionally, I’ve just graduated from Monmouth University and am a full-time production assistant at MSNBC. Chris is pursuing his passion for history, and is in the midst of attaining a master’s degree at Northeastern University.

I’ll bet that, as they mature and reflect on their childhoods, Amy Chua’s kids will feel they missed out on, well, being kids.
I can tell you that performing in grammar school talent shows was probably one of the best experiences of my life. In fact, dancing to ‘No Limit’ provided a once-in-a-lifetime high I’ll never forget.  There I was, at the tender age of eight, dancing on stage in a glitter-and-rhinestone studded costume that most surely would have made Amy Chua cringe.

Chris and I were also pretty big partiers in high school.  We had curfews, but our parents didn’t flip if we came home a little late.  It’s not that they weren’t worried about our safety, they most certainly were. Instead, they trusted us to make our own decisions.  And, that was huge.

If our parents hadn’t let us date during high school, I shudder to think what would have happened when we reached college.  Many of my friends with strict, Chua-like parents, went berserk during their freshman years and, unfortunately, fell victim to alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases and other setbacks.

My dad writes a great deal about image and reputation in his blog. And, many of us buy into the notion that one of the reasons our country is falling behind is precisely because Asian moms such as Amy Chua are raising baby Einsteins. I think the issue is much more complex. And, while Amy’s kids might be ridiculously smart, are they happy?  Or, will they be happy in the future? Maybe. But, I don’t think so.

Too much of anything is a bad thing. My biggest fear for Amy Chua’s kids is that, one day many years from now, they’ll look back and ask the ‘What if’ question. What if I hadn’t done everything my mom insisted I do and, instead, did what I wanted to do? Chris Cody and I will never be asking ourselves that question. And, thanks for that, Mom.

Jan 03

A different type of New Year’s resolution

DSCN5007 'Tis the season for resolutions, so I figured I'd share mine.

Unlike many, I have no need to quit smoking, lose weight or tackle new physical challenges. Ice climbing, long distance cycling and stand-up comedy fill those ‘voids’ very nicely, thank you.

My resolution is more of an emotional one. I resolve not to let professional and personal setbacks upset me to the degree they have in the past.

If a significant client cuts us loose, so be it. If a close friend decides to cut me off, c'est la vie. And, if the Mets continue to cut a wide swath through the N.L. East's cellar, that'll be ok, too.

I won't these other pet peeves bother me either:

– The Lexus 'December to Remember' TV commercials. Is there ANYTHING more obnoxious?
– PR awards' programs that allow large agencies to submit countless entries and dominate each and every category.
– Endless NJ Transit train delays.
– New Jersey's horrible image. The real armpit of the tri-state area is Wrong Island.
– Sarah Palin's nonsensical, moronic statements.
– Politicians who refuse to work with one another to solve our nation's ills.
– PR Week's hagiographic cover profiles of chief communications officers (the only thing missing are the halos).
– The latest transgression by a Catholic priest.
– Yet another heating or air conditioning glitch from the fine folks at 470 Park Avenue South.
– Unsolicited e-mails from new business rainmakers, database management experts and a certain Mr. Brown from Nigeria who needs my banking information in order to transfer some $7 million into my account.

So, bring on the New Year and its challenges. I pledge not to overreact to disloyal clients and friends or rude and uncommunicative NJ Transit train conductors.

If I should find myself slipping though, I know I need only schedule a few days of ice or rock climbing with Art Mooney (www.mooneymountainguides.com). It's the single best cure for what ails me and the best way for me to assure I deliver on my 2011 resolutions.

So, how about you? What are your 2011 resolutions?

Oct 20

The ‘Other’ Big C

I'm in the midst of flipping through Jon Stewart's laugh out loud coffee table book, Earth. It's   TMCQuentinMeaseCroppedRGB written for aliens who have stumbled across planet earth long after we humans have annihilated ourselves. In it, Stewart provides his P.O.V. on the who, what, when, where, why and how humanity got itself into the mess that is life in the year 2010.

As is the case with all of Stewart's humor, the text is decidedly tongue-in-cheek. One section, entitled ‘The Phases of Man’ is both hilarious and insightful.

The middle-age section naturally hit home with me. It features a photograph of a portly, balding middle-aged guy rocking a Hawaiian shirt, mandals, a couple of tats and an earring. Various arrows point to the man's anatomy and contain captions such as this one about his visible chest hair, “Men of a certain age were eager to show the world not all of their hairlines were receding.” Another arrow pointing to the man's sagging chest reads, “Decreased metabolism manifested itself in the form of love handles, spare tires, saddle bags, walrus knees, beluga back and manteats.”

Stewart describes middle age as the period of time between 45 and 60 (Phew! I still qualify). He then goes on to say that middle age varied greatly due to changing life expectancies. “For instance,” he writes, “victims of midlife crisis during the Dark Ages would comfort themselves with the thought that 20 is the new 16.”

Tuesday's New York Times Science section neatly complemented Stewart's wisdom on middle age with an in-depth analysis of how and why centenarians make it to 100 years of age and beyond. There are now 96,548 humans 100 years of age, or older (there were only 38,300 in 1990). That's enough oldsters to fill the Rose Bowl! Of course, they'd fall asleep before halftime, but still…

According to the article, which cites findings of a New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, there's a direct link between longevity and people who are extroverts, have a healthy dose of self-esteem and strong ties to family and community (note: two out of three ain't bad). It also reports on a University of Pittsburgh study that followed 97,000 women for eight years and said those 'deemed optimistic' were significantly less likely to die from heart disease than were pessimistic women, which the study described as “cynically hostile.” (Note: I've had more than one cynically hostile client over the years). Pessimists were also more likely to be overweight, smoke cigarettes and avoid exercise.

Here's the kicker, though. A Swedish study of identical twins separated at birth and reared apart concluded that only about 20 to 30 percent of longevity is genetically determined. That's huge. That means we can play a major role in determining how long we live and whether we can make it to the 'other’ Big C.

My game plan to reach 100 is two-fold:

– Challenge my body with intense physical exercise such as this past weekend's rock climbing in New Hampshire  , the Tour de Pink charity ride and other seemingly nonsensical middle-age pursuits.
– Challenge my mind with daily blogs, bi-monthly podcasts, performing stand-up comedy and trying to devise new service offerings for Peppercom. I find battling with Ed also keeps my mind fresh. I may die before this blog is even posted, but I've got a ‘Big C Plan’ that I'm implementing. What about you? Are you thinking of making it to the other Big C? If so, share your game plan. Lifelong learning is another key ingredient in the lives of centenarians portrayed in the Times article. And, I'm all ears (minus the eDSCN4689arring, of course).IMAG0066 (2)

Oct 04

Tour de Pink II: The Sequel

Peppercommers Matt Purdue, Trish Taylor and this blogger joined 200 other cyclists this past IMAG0066 weekend to battle flooded roads, steep hills and aching muscles to successfully complete the 230-mile Tour de Pink charity fundraising ride.

Click here to see a video of Matt being interviewed by FoxNews at the end of the ride in New York City.

Tour de Pink 2009 was an amazing experience for me- some of my readers may recall my "post ride" post from last year. This year was even more extraordinary

Created six years ago by Matt and a few other pioneering souls, the Tour's goal is to raise awareness of and monetary support for the Young Survival Coalition. This is an amazing group that, unlike Susan G. Komen and other high profile breast cancer charities, has had to depend on Matt and his circle of friends to make a difference. And, what a difference they've made. In just six years, Matt & Co. have elevated the tour from an initial event that raised just $30,000 to this year's Woodstock-like experience that has already put some $550,000 in the YSC coffers. The event’s lead sponsor, The Hershey Company (cultivated by Matt and his committee), also donated $300,000 and sent nearly 40 riders to the tour.

But, the event is about much more than the much-needed moola. It's an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual roller coaster that pushes riders to the max. In many ways, it reminds me of the demands of climbing Kilimanjaro, Elbrus or other 14,000-plus foot peaks. Cyclists, like climbers, bond immediately. We push each other through the pain. We urge each other to go just one more mile, or stagger in to just one more rest stop.

There's no hype, no false pretense and, above all, no mind games. When a rider says she has your back, she means it. When one rider falls (and, unfortunately, three cyclists suffered broken collar bones the first day), we all stop to provide whatever support we can.

You won't find that type of individual riding Matt Purdue's Tour de Pink. Many of Matt's riders begin the three days as complete strangers and end up BFFs. The exact same things holds true for climbing.

So, before ending, I wanted to send a few shoutouts:

– To all my friends, family and co-workers who contributed money. Thank you.
– To the Tour de Pink support staff who had PBJ sandwiches, bananas and Advil waiting at every rest stop.
– To the three riders who broke their collar bones on day one, but traveled with the group for the rest of the tour.
– To my most excellent assistant, Dandy Stevenson, who handled all of my personal logistics so that I could concentrate on the matter at hand
– To Matt Purdue, who lost his partner, Randi, to breast cancer this past February. This one was for you, Matt.

Although I've exceeded my $3,000 fundraising goal, I can accept donations on my fundraising page through December 31st. And, to further help Matt and YSC, we'll once again be hosting a charity comedy event this coming Saturday night, October 9th, at 8pm at the New York Comedy Club. I promise that, too, will be a special experience.

So, if the spirit so moves you, help Matt, Trish and me raise the awareness of the Young Survivors Coalition. And, if you think your legs, beck, back and lower extremities can take it, join us for next year's Tour de Pink. I've done it twice now and cannot wait for a threepeat.

If you do decide to join us, I guarantee it'll be one of the best experiences of your life.

Jul 28

You don’t know how lucky you are, boy, back in the U.S.S.R.

Phoenix and its 116 degree heat and Manhattan with its hazy, hot and humid spell of six million
St-petersburg-russia straight, 90 degree days have nothing on St. Petersburg, Russia.

Having had the pleasure of touring the historic Czarist city the past few days, I can report on the following:

The Russians don't do air conditioning. Period. And, that's not a good thing. I thought London struggled with excessively high heat, but the Brits could learn a trick or two from the plucky Russians. Most merely shrug their shoulders, sigh and deal with it. As Pauline, our tour guide put it: “Your Mr. Albert Gore was sure right about his world warming theory, da?”

To begin with, there's St. Petersburg's overall miasma: daytime temperatures soar well in excess of 100 degrees (F). But, unlike Phoenix and it’s much heralded and over-hyped 'dry heat,' the humidity here is Vietnamese jungle-like in its intensity (courtesy of its proximity to the Baltic Sea).

Stir in absolutely no carbon dioxide emission standards whatsoever, never-ending road construction work which sears the air with a heady aroma of burning tar and a sun that, due to our extreme Northern exposure, doesn't set until 11pm and one gets hot, hot, hot to paraphrase another pop song.

But St. Petersburg's special charm is its cigarette-addicted populace. When it came to conquering the Russian population, Napoleon and Hitler should have studied Phillip Morris instead of Carl von Clausewitz. Nearly every uber attractive, scantily-clad Russian lass can be seen strolling the Neskiye Prospekt with a cigarette dangling from her lips. And, the men puff away just as enthusiastically. So, if you're an investor, hang onto your tobacco stocks- Phillip Morris is making a killing here, literally.

On the plus side, St. Petersburg has beautifully restored 17th and 18th century Russian Orthodox churches on virtually every street corner. They also have a subway system that is clean and cool. (Yes, I said, cool. I was actually thinking of bedding down in one for the night.) There are also lots of historic sites for the hyperactive tourist. (But, one morning of inhaling noxious fumes and sweating through my clothes many times over was enough to put a damper on any extended tours for this blogger.)
 
Another plus is the World War II memorabilia. The Russians proudly display many of the weapons used to fight back the Nazi siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg's name during the Communist regime). And, there's even a brief tour of the Astoria Hotel (not to be confused with NYC's Waldorf-Astoria) where Hitler had already made plans to host a gala celebration of the fall of Leningrad. (As our guide, Pauline, beamed, “So, he did not have the chance for that, no? So, instead, Stalin came here and he give big, big celebration.”)

I found it curious that there were no statues or murals of Stalin to be found, but Lenin is everywhere. I guess those 30 million mass murders tended to dampen the Russians' pride in Uncle Joe.

Anyway, my climbing team leaves St. Petersburg this morning for a day-long flight South to Mineral Vody in the Caucasus Mountains, where we begin our assault on 18,840 foot Mt Elbrus. With cell service being as scarce as tobacco and nicotine are plentiful, this blogger doubts he'll be able to file an update until we reach Moscow midweek of next week. Here's hoping in advance that Moscow copes with the heat a little bit better than its neighbor to the North.

St. Petersburg was nice to visit, but here's one comrade who wouldn't want to live there. Dasvedanya, Amerikanskis.

Jul 23

And, now, it’s on to Mother Russia and let’s win there

This Sunday, Chris “Repman, Jr.”, Cody and I leave on a two-week trip to Russia. Our goal is to
Elbrus-map summit Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus. If successful, it will enable us to lay claim to having bagged two of the world’s ‘Seven Summits.’ We celebrated New Year’s Eve 2007 on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa, and hope to top out on Elbrus on August 3rd.

‘Kili’ was a beast, and Elbrus looks to be no easier. At 18,481 feet, it’s Europe’s highest point. It’s a double-coned volcano that is wrapped in ice and snow (which, if nothing else, will provide a welcomed break from this horrific hazy, hot and humid weather we’ve been experiencing for the last month or so).

In addition to the climb, we’ll be touring St. Petersburg and Moscow (and, possibly, ducking stray bullets and mortar shells from irate Chechnyan rebels).

As I’ve done on my previous trips abroad, I’ll be asking locals their views on the image and reputation of the U.S. (being careful not to offend any irate Chechnyan rebels in the process). This is my first big trip abroad since Obama assumed office, so it will be interesting to see if, as was the case with his predecessor, I hear the locals say something to the effect, “We love Americans. We just hate your President.” Most Tea Party members, Evangelicals and Glenn Beck fans would probably say the same thing.

I hope to file at least one blog from the former Soviet Union if the vagaries of wireless connection enable me to do so. If not, Repman readers will be blessed by content provided by a host of able and willing guest bloggers who have volunteered to fill the void (however miniscule said void may be).

And, so I end by paraphrasing the final, immortal words of Senator Robert F. Kennedy: “And, now, it’s on to Mother Russia and let’s win there.”