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 05

Top 10 reasons why David Letterman did a great job of managing his crisis

10.) He was prompt
9.) He admitted fault
8.) He called his actions 'creepy'
7.) He made the announcement on national TV
6.) He apologized
5.) He used comedy, a powerful weapon, in an appropriate way
4.) He made clear he hadn't violated the workplace policies of either CBS or his own company
3.) He made clear that the timing of the workplace liaison predated his becoming married
2.) He was genuine in his remarks, and, drum roll please…………….

1.) He used the right platform at the right time and in the right way to convey the message

October 5 - david-letterman-heart-surgeryToo many CEOs balk at disclosing negative information. Or, they bumble their way through stiff, obviously rehearsed remarks. Or, they stop short of admitting fault and assuming responsibility. Or, they'll have a PR spokesperson handle the media on their behalf. Or, they'll let the lawyers control the message which ends up sounding like pure gibberish. Or, they'll bury their heads in the sand and hope to ride out the storm.

The Letterman story may have additional chapters before it ends. But, in my book, the man handled the image and reputation elements of the communications as well as I've ever seen.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Paul Schaefer and the 'Late Night' Band playing, 'I'm a Man,' by Chicago.

Jun 29

Reelin’ in the years

June 29 - cupcake It’s my birthday. No big deal in the grand scheme of things but, as Pink Floyd once wrote, ‘Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.’ Maudlin to be sure, but since we’re all mortal, it’s tough not to reflect on what’s been accomplished and what’s still to be done.

In that spirit, I’ve given some thought to what I’m most proud of and what I’d like to do between now and the inevitable appearance of the Grim Reaper. Here goes:

Accomplishments:

  • Chris and Catharine
  • Peppercom
  • McGraw-Hill published book, ‘What’s keeping your customer up at night?’ (continues to fly off the bookshelves in Third World countries while gathering dust here)
  • 75 or so stand-up comedy performances
  • One ‘improv’ performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in NYC (easily the toughest mental challenge I’ve yet faced)
  • Mountain climbing, ice climbing, three half marathons and two 18-mile marathons
  • PR industry awards, bylined articles, speeches, panels, agency of the year, yada, yada
  • Mentoring more than one dazed and confused college student

Goals:

  • Learning a second language
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Climbing at least three more of the Seven Summits
  • Rock climbing
  • Antarctica and the Galapagos
  • Acting
  • Completing my swimming lessons and finishing a sprint triathalon

Reflecting on my mortality, I’m reminded of the classic William Saroyan quip, ‘Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.’ If only……

Jun 24

It’s time to stand-up for the power of comedy

Peppercommers Brendan Mullin and Doug Feingold made their stand-up comedy debuts this past Thursday night at the New York Comedy Club.

June 24 - Brendan Mullin

This alone would warrant a blog since it takes some serious intestinal fortitude to perform stand-up. But, in so doing, Brendan and Doug were also completing the third part of our most unique management training program.

You see, we include stand-up comedy training as part of our Peppercom State management development program. We contract with Clayton Fletcher, a professional comedian, and train each and every level of our organization.

In addition to learning the four distinct types of comedy, our employees are given tips on how to better project their voice, 'read' the non-verbals of an audience and grasp the nuances of pacing and timing. After each 'performs' five minutes of original material in front of their peers, our employees later sit down with our strategy consultant who reviews a videotape of their stand-up to point out areas of improvement.

Our various comedy workshops have been terrific for the individuals involved and absolutely awesome for overall team building and morale enhancement.

Brendan and Doug took the final steps last week by performing live in front of at least 80 people.

Other agencies may be a little stronger in speechwriting or CSR. And The Holmes Report may have named a larger firm for having the best workplace in the industry. But, no one, and I mean, no one, better understands the strategic, competitive advantages of comedy than little, old Peppercom.

Stand-up comedy training isn't right for every organization. In fact, I can think of a few PR firms whose owners would never, ever buy into anything so 'radical' as stand-up comedy training. But, it works for us. And, while The Holmes Report may ignore the trend, Ad Age certainly hasn't (Download AdAge Comedy Article). 

We live in an era in which nearly every kind of business finds itself unable to afford pay increases or bonuses. By partnering with a stand-up comedian like Clayton, however, we've paid a little, but gained a lot. It's high time other business leaders stand up and take note of comedy's strategic role in business.

Did you miss the live show? Download Brendan Mullin's Stand Up Video.

Jul 02

Let’s go, on with the show!

I must admit to loving Consultant Robb High’s lengthy list of agency marketing mistakes. His latestSpeech
missive homes in on the need for strong agency ‘performers’ in new business pitches.

Robb writes, and I agree, that 90 percent of all new business decisions come down to chemistry. You either ‘connect’ with the prospect or, as Peppercom’s Deb Brown likes to say, ‘…pack up your tent and go home.’

High suggests that top agency pitch people should enroll in acting classes to improve their skills. He’s absolutely right. Having taken two Upright Citizens Brigade improvisation workshops and a week long American Comedy Institute course, I can tell you the training makes a huge, if subtle, difference.

Improv teaches one to react spontaneously to word and phrase prompts and work as a team to help one another construct a skit. Stand-up comedy trains one in pacing, eye contact, reading non-verbals and interacting with hostile or passive audiences (give me a hostile audience anytime, btw. There’s nothing worse than staring at a roomful of blank stares).

All that said, I do disagree with High’s assertion that only the ‘A’ team should attend new business pitches. Such a strategy leads to the classic big agency bait-and-switch complaint we hear so often from disgruntled prospects (i.e. ‘We were pitched by the stars, but ended up getting 22-year-old juniors working on our business.’). The far better course of action is to enroll agency fast trackers in acting, improv and comedy classes.

The deeper the talent pool, the more flexibility senior management has in selecting the best pitch team. And, who knows, maybe there’s a budding Marlon Brando or Eva Marie Saint somewhere within your agency. All they (and you) need is to recognize the enormous personal, professional and organizational benefits of acting classes. Now then, has anyone seen my make-up case?

Jun 09

Variations on a theme

What would happen to a public relations firm if they kept providing the same solution over and over? For that matter, what would happen to any company that kept re-cycling the same old, same old?Comedy_2

Answer: they’d lose clients.

So, how do actors such as Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Steve Carell and Mike Myers keep getting away with it? And, how does Hollywood, in general, keep getting away with it?

Myers did breakthrough work with the first Austin Powers movie. But, since then? Ugh. Now, I’m seeing billboards for yet another 1960s-themed flick from Myers. This one is The Love Guru and is obviously based on the exploits of the late, and not-so-great, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Can’t these guys come up with something better?

Carell, meanwhile, is in a re-make of ‘Get Smart.‘ Gee, that sounds riveting. For his part, Ferrell re-cycles the same basic character in movies covering ice hockey, basketball, weddings and god knows what else. But, new? Original? Nope. Not from Ferrell. And, not from this group. And, yet, Myers, Stiller, et al, are the leading lights of the Hollywood comedy genre.

It’s sad that they consistently re-cycle mediocre content. It’s sadder still that Americans accept such mediocrity.

So, here’s my question: the business world won’t accept re-cycled drivel. And, Hollywood’s a big business. So, why are they the exception to the rule?

Dec 18

Playing in the big leagues

I played in the big leagues last night. It was my first time and I hope it won’t turn out to be just a ‘quickLaughfactory_logo_2
cup of coffee’ as long-term minor league baseball players call their brief stints in the ‘bigs.’

You see, I performed 15 minutes of stand-up at the Laugh Factory. And, while I’ve probably done 25 previous gigs at other venues, this was my first one in the bigs. The Laugh Factory is the real deal, with top-of-the-line facilities, audio/video support systems, a closed circuit television system and A-level comics. In fact, the room itself reminded me more of a Vegas lounge than a Manhattan comedy club.

I did well. As well as I’ve ever done. So, I was pleased when I sat down afterwards (and my blood pressure returned to near normal levels). Then, I watched as real, professional comedians dazzled the audience. And, I was humbled (and very thankful for my day job).

Playing in the big leagues is a scary, but exhilarating, experience. I think I’ve mastered the timing and techniques, but now I know it really is all about material.

So, just like the minor league phenom who gets his shot with the major league parent club but sees how much he still needs to refine, I’m now heading back to the minors. I’ve got to learn to hit the ball out of the park before I can reasonably expect a second cup of coffee at the Laugh Factory.