Apr 20

Conduct unbecoming an owner of a PR firm

A few years back we were about to fill an account executive spot. Having been left out of the interview process, I asked where the candidate currently worked. When I was told, I put an immediate hold on things. The prospect worked at a firm run by a good friend. I picked up the phone, called the friend and, without naming names (so as to not damage the candidate's standing within the incumbent agency) told the CEO what was going on. I said that our friendship was more important than an individual hire and offered to call off the negotiations. The CEO asked for a few hours to think things over. He called back, thanked me profusely for the courtesy, but said, 'If this employee has one foot out the door, he'll either go to Peppercom or somewhere else. I'd feel better knowing he was going to work with you and Ed.'

I share the anecdote because two 'friends' have recently poached talent from my firm without saying word one to me before, during or after the incidents. I expect this sort of behavior from the large, more impersonal agencies. But these two firms are quite a bit smaller than ours. And, frankly, the agency CEO network is a rather tight one. While there are a few rogues, most of us like each other and are often willing to share advice, best practices, etc. There's an unwritten rule that we won't steal talent from one another. It's just not done.

I expect to run into the two CEOs of these firms at some point soon and, when I do, I want to ask them each the same question: 'Why did you steal my people? Why would you want to hurt my firm? I'm honestly disappointed in your behavior.'

Needless to say, our management team is angry and anxious to exact revenge. That's unfortunate and, I hope we can fill our needs elsewhere. Two wrongs never make a right. Especially in such a small world as public relations.

It's best to move on. But not before authoring a blog calling attention to conduct unbecoming an owner of a PR firm. This is boorish behavior that, in the final analysis, will adversely impact the image and reputation of the other agencies. And, that, is the only revenge necessary.

Jan 22

Cease and Desist to Warp Seven!

Guest post by Rob Longert, PepperDigital

“Without freedom of choice there is no creativity. The body dies.” — Captain James T. Kirk in 'The Return Of The Archons' 

For a short while, I had the hope that this year’s “Starship Peppercom” holiday card would be up for an academy award. The acting, stock graphics and stock music was award winning, not to mention the camera work, directing and editing. 

But as you may have heard in yesterday’s post on Ed Moed’s Measuring Up blog, we received a “very polite and tactful” letter from CBS, owners of the Star Trek property, asking us to remove the video from our Web site, and as Ed put it, “CBS has every right to protect its brand rights in Star Trek and clearly its attorney is making sure that this is enforced to the letter of the law.”

But let’s take a step back for a second and examine the situation: 

  • We created a holiday card to show our personality and have some fun… Much like the crew of the Starship enterprise, everyone on our management team has a different personality that meshes together to form a successful group. StarTrek Costume  
  • While we did use the theme of Star Trek and licensed costumes that we purchased online, we didn’t use the original intro music, name of the show, photos of the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise or photos of actors from any of the various Star Trek series’. 
  • The backdrop of the video was Steve’s office and our conference room. Unfortunately, as much as I love our offices, they look nothing like a space ship, and while Park Avenue can seem like a black hole sometimes, it isn’t! 

I am not a lawyer, and I can see where CBS’ “legal eagles” are coming from, but on the other hand, we no longer live in a world where there are strict boundaries in terms of extreme fandom and appreciation and copyright infringement. 

The whole internet thing sort of changed the rules didn't it? Is every Star Trek online forum moderated by CBS? If a fan run forum has online advertising on it, does that fan owe money to CBS? 

Look back to August of 2008, when a number of fans of the hit TV show Mad Men began tweeting on behalf of their favorite characters… AMC’s gut reaction was to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint with Twitter, to which Twitter responded by pulling down the Don Draper, Peggy Olson etc… character accounts. This sent fans into an uproar, and eventually AMC came to their senses, and realized that the fan Tweeting was actually just “free advertising” for their show.

As former Gawker blogger Richard Lawson (now with CBS) put it, “I can understand entire episodes being pulled, but little clips here and there seem to increase buzz and to potentially earn the shows some new fans.” 

The new Star Trek movie has over 330,000 fans on Facebook, they have every episode from the original series on YouTube and there are countless Star Trek spoofs out there (including one on the G4 channel called Star Trek 2.0) from TV and the Web, and you can even “Trek Yourself" (see below). But there is one thing missing… engagement from the brand.

Create Your Own

While monitoring so closely for copyright infringement, why not put some resources towards responding in forums, their Facebook page, and on YouTube? Think about the buzz that would be generated if they held a contest for the biggest Star Trek fan, who would represent them in social media circles! The possibilities are endless here…

My question to the Star Trek property is this: Will it hurt the franchise more to curb user generated content or to embrace it and converse with the passionate fans that are potential brand ambassadors?

What would James T. Kirk and Jean Luc Piccard do in this situation?!

Dec 08

Closing the gap between marketing and sales

Guest Post by Deborah Brown, Peppercom

December 8 - gap Years ago, I remember the marking manager of a client desperately ask, “Can Peppercom please help us? I don’t know how to get marketing and sales aligned. There’s virtually no communication and sales is off saying what they want to customers, while marketing is trying to instill consistency with our messages.  What do we do?” Several weeks later, with a sales consultant, Peppercom developed “Pain –Based Selling,” a program that aligns marketing and sales and closes the gap between what salespeople believe is keeping their customers up at night and what actually is. And, about a year later, co-founder Steve Cody co-authored a book on the topic entitled “What’s Keeping Your Customers Up At Night?”

Now, fast forward about seven years. And, guess what? Sadly, very little has changed. To be fair, there is some alignment in certain companies, but from my experience, it’s still very limited or – in other companies – doesn’t even exist. It seems absurd when the two disciplines can greatly benefit from one another. At Peppercom, we try to go on sales calls with clients so that we can understand how messages are resonating with key audiences and get feedback from customers and prospects. Even this is often challenging to schedule. Yet, when we do go on sales calls, we can immediately uncover important information that can further strengthen existing marketing and communications programs or give us ideas for future ones.

I’d like to pose this question to you:  Can your company survive if sales and marketing are on different teams? 

That’s the focus of a FREE webinar from Peppercom this Wednesday, December 9th , from 1pm-2pm EST.  “Coach Nick” Papadopoulos, Sky’s The Limit Corporation Founder and author of the sales book “Championship Selling,” Steve Cody, Co-Founder of strategic communications firm Peppercom, and Matt Schwartzberg, President of A-1 First Class Viking Moving & Storage will discuss this question and the formula for success in 2010. The panel will be moderated by Sam Ford, Peppercom’s Direct of Customer Insights and research affiliate with the Convergence Culture Consortium. The panel will discuss proven strategies for breaking down the walls, how to take advantage of the first signs of economic recovery, the difference alignment has made for A-1 First Class Viking Moving & Storage, and much more.

Please click here for more details.

It’s critical for marketing and sales to understand each others' role and value. Bridge the gap….before it’s so wide that your company falls through it into oblivion.

Nov 04

Stickiness is so 1999

November 4 - Webinar_Sticky3 Remember what a big deal stickiness used to be? Dotcom executives loved using the word. First, they'd talk about eyeballs on their site. Then, they'd wax poetic about stickiness. 'Steve, guess how long the average visitor stays on www.fallenarches.com? Three minutes! That kills our competitors' numbers. Kills! Buries! Annihilates! We are so friggin' sticky!'

 When the dotcom bubble burst, it took those annoying executives and their eyeballs along for the ride. But, somehow the word stickiness survived.

In fact, stickiness is still considered by many as a key barometer in today's social media world.

Stickiness is used to describe the time a visitor spends on a website. Conventional wisdom holds that the stickier the site, the more enriching the end user experience (and the more successful the site).

Not so, says Sam Ford, Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, who will join me for a webinar on the subject this Friday at 1p.m. EST (Register
here for this free webinar, "Moving from "Sticky" to "Spreadable": The
antidote to "Viral Marketing" and the Broadcast Mentality

Messrs. Ford, Jenkins and Green are affiliated with M.I.T's highly-regarded Convergence Culture Consortium, whose mission is to provide some clarity and make some sense of the seismic digital changes happening all around us (note: Sam Ford also happens to be Peppercom's director of customer insights).

The trio believe web success is all about spreadability and not stickiness. Spreadability, they say, should be the watchword of the day. It's not about how long someone stays on a site but, rather, how they share (or spread) the information contained on it and with whom.

Spreadability is critical to success in social media. But, understanding how to create content that others will find spreadable isn't easy.

On Friday, Ford, Jenkins and Green will share best and worst practices, tips on how to create your own speadable content and explain why 'viral' may make sense in medical nomenclature, but shouldn't be included in your tech talk.

Just think: a Friday afternoon with Repman and three academics discussing spreadability on the web. Aside from another Phillies victory, what more could you possibly ask for?

Nov 03

Let’s give it six months

November 3 - image_s4 We just marked Peppercom's 14th anniversary. We didn't do anything special to mark the occasion. In fact, we didn't even mention it on the firm's intranet or bring it up at our regular staff meeting. Fourteen is one of those in-between years.

I hadn't given the 14th anniversary much thought until I read Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, 'What the dog saw.' Truth be told, it isn't a book but, rather, a compilation of Gladwell's short stories and essays. Some are quite good. Some aren't. It's illuminating, but it's certainly no 'Outliers.'

One chapter, entitled 'Late bloomers,' got my attention. In it, Gladwell attempts to explain why Picasso was successful at an early age while Cezanne didn't break through until he was well into his 50s. The author cites numerous other dichotomies as well: Keats and Byron vs. Twain and Frost, for example.

Gladwell got me thinking. Why did Ed and I become successful? After all, when we started the firm, we didn't think Peppercom would last more than six months. So, I took a quick dive into my favorite subject: me.

I jumped off to early successes at St. Francis Grammar School, but hit a serious trough in high school. Northeastern set me straight and headed me in the right direction. But, I experienced a series of career ups and downs before running into Edward Aloysius Moed and launching Peppercom at the age of 41.

Did I finally succeed because I needed to experience failure first? Did Ed succeed earlier in life because he was Picasso to my Cezanne? It's scary to think of Ed as the Picasso of PR. Does that make Jerry Schwartz the van Gogh of our field? Is Richard Edelman the Brahms of public relations?

Defining how, why and when someone succeeds fascinates me. In 'Outliers,' Gladwell addresses what he calls the '10,000 hour rule' to explain how such disparate people and groups as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the Beatles succeeded so early in life.

Success means different things to different people. I'd be hard pressed to describe it myself. But, I'm flattered to think others believe I'm successful. More importantly, though, I'm grateful that writers like Gladwell can shed light on the subject.

You see, too many young people are too caught up with becoming a success by a certain age. The beauty of Gladwell's late bloomers chapter is its truth: lots of people find success late in life.

So, here's a note to students, interns, junior account executives and a certain master's student in history: be patient. If you're good and you're persistent and, like me, you're a little bit lucky, you WILL find success. Worst case scenario: you'll find your own version of Ed Moed. And, trust me, that's not all bad.

Oct 28

Not delivering on the brand promise

I never cease to be amazed how many organizations still don't 'get' the concept of a brand promise. They don't understand they need to deliver the brand experience they promise in their tagline, positioning and marketing messages.

October 28 - comcast Comcast is a great example of a brand that doesn't deliver on its promise. The huge cable systems operator has been running its 'Comcastic' campaign for years. But, as any Comcast subscriber will tell you, the service (and, in particular, the customer service) is anything but fantastic. It's positively dreadful. A better, more realistic brand promise from Comcast might be: 'ComPoor' or 'ComAwful." A brand shouldn't raise consumers expectations by promising one experience and then delivering another.

New Jersey Transit is my personal bête noir. The local transit system heralds itself as 'the way to go.' Now, anyone who routinely rides NJT's trains will tell you it is anything BUT the way to go. It's a necessary evil that one has to take because alternative solutions are either cost or location prohibitive. NJT trains are habitually late, staffed by rude or indifferent conductors and feature restrooms that are definitely NOT the way (or place) to go.

I originally suggested the powers that be at NJT supplant 'The way to go' with 'Just train bad.' I think they may not have understood my purposeful double entendre and ignored it. So, instead, I'm suggesting NJT adopt a shorter, more direct brand promise that perfectly manages expectations and can be delivered every single day. I'm calling it: 'expect less.'

I love 'expect less.' It works in every conceivable way. In fact, I've actually adopted 'expect less' as my personal, tongue-in-cheek brand promise for my upcoming year as chairman of the College of Charleston advisory board. 

Speaking of the CofC, Tom Martin, executive-in-residence at the College of Charleston (and one of the all-time great Peppercom clients, btw) recently created a classic brand promise slide you should check out.

Download Brand and Reputation

It lists what brands say about themselves and what we, as consumers, really think about them. It's worth a gander.

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

Imagine what Roseann Phillips’s original investment would be worth today

Grandma Roseann Phillips died this morning at the age of 89. She was my mother-in-law. She was also a very special lady in lots of ways. And, along with my older brother, Russ, she was one of the two original investors in Peppercom.

To jump-start our nascent firm, Ed and I had asked various people for seed money. The only two who stepped forward to pony up cash were Roseann Phillips and Russ. Mrs. Phillips gave us $7,500. Russ forked over $5,000. We offered both equity in exchange, but both declined (a seemingly wise move at the time, since conventional wisdom holds that 90 percent of all small business fail within the first three years. And who wants to become ensnared in bankruptcy proceedings?).

Anyway, armed with the $12,500 cash infusion, we set out to conquer the world. Ed created the business infrastructure while I tried to generate some semblance of marketplace awareness. After 60 days of deafening silence, we signed our first client. And then another. Soon, we were in a position to pay back our investors. But, Roseann Phillips refused our money. I remember her saying our early success was the only return on investment that mattered to her.

Roseann Phillips did many things for many people. To an upstart start-up named Peppercom, her money was like manna from heaven. And, it’s not too far a stretch to say that, without Roseann and Russ, there would be no Peppercom today.

Considering the fact that we posted some $14 million in 2008 revenues and were willing to give Mrs. Phillips three percent equity in exchange, her original investment in ‘The Ed and Steve Company’ would be worth a pretty penny today. But, then again, that wouldn’t have mattered to Roseann Phillips. Seeing us racking up success after success was the only reward she sought.

Aug 12

The vagaries of business: 1995-2009

August 12 - business-101 I had the opportunity to join a day-long meeting
of PR agency executives last week. While a few were excelling, most were
struggling in the current economy. Many, in fact, had taken Draconian cuts
to assure their firms remained profitable. Others had re-assigned formerly
billable staff to nearly full-time marketing and business development
activities. It was grim, to say the least.

I hope these firms succeed in their prospecting, but making changes after the
fact is akin to trying to run down the proverbial horse that's already bolted
from the barn.

But, I digress. At the meeting, participants agreed that clients were not only
inviting more firms than ever to pitch their business, but taking an inordinate
time to make a decision. One statement in particular took me aback. An agency
principal reported that his firm had won no fewer than three recent pieces of
business only to be told the client budget no longer existed. Ouch! It's tough
enough to chase down some of these leads. But, imagine receiving a call that
begins with the prospect/client saying, 'Herbert, I have some good news and
some bad news. Which would you like first?'

I went through the 'now you see it, now you don't' experience once before. It
was back in those lazy, hazy, crazy days of dotcom-mania. We'd pitched a
company, been awarded the business in the morning and then fired in the
afternoon. Apparently, the CMO had neither the authority nor the budget to hire
a firm. Nice.

Last week's therapy session also reminded me of Peppercom's first big setback.
We'd been in business for about three months when I received a call from a guy
with whom I'd once worked. He was now head of human resources at a global
chemical company and had a mega budget for employee communications. 'Steve,' he
said. 'I want you guys to overhaul everything. Soup to nuts. You give me the
budget and I'll authorize the purchase orders. Oh, and we need to start

Talk about manna from heaven! We had one or two other small clients at the time
but, in one fell swoop, this chemical company client was about to transform the
fledgling Peppercom into a multi-million dollar agency.

Ed and I quickly crafted the program (with Ed gleefully whipping together
massive budgets, btw). The two of us then barreled up Rt. 95 to Connecticut to present the plans and budget, and begin the work.

When we arrived at the reception desk and asked for the contact, however, we
received a puzzled look. 'Why don't you take a seat?' suggested the

About 20 minutes later, a woman came strolling out. She introduced herself as
the new head of human resources and corporate communications, and sighed, 'Did
no one contact you about John?' We shook our heads. 'Well,' she continued,
'John was fired last week. I saw your proposal and budgets and, frankly, have
no interest in working with you. I'm sorry you had to come all this way.'

Boom. Easy come, easy go. Talk about a long, brutal ride back to Manhattan. The word 'funeral' came to mind. 

I was never able to track John down to find out what had happened. And, he
never bothered calling me.

Ed and I overcame our shock and disbelief (as well as our intention to hire 10
people and move into new office space) and went back to cold calling new
business prospects. (Footnote: a variation of this anecdote occurred many years
later when a global CMO promised us a $10 million budget only to disappear a
few months later).

Business always has its ups and downs, in good times and bad. While
commiserating over one's bad luck can be cathartic, I've found the single
biggest 'secret' to success is resiliency. When an ITT, Panasonic or a Unisys
fires you, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off,  paste a smile on your
face and charge ahead.

There will always be clients who spin your wheels and dangle assignments and
budgets they have authority to award. And, every once in a while, there will be
a prospect who disappears completely after promising a wealth of riches. The
best remedy is to simply chalk it up to the vagaries of business: yesterday,
today and tomorrow.

Aug 03

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon blues.

August 3 - climb-stack-of-paper An erstwhile client of ours recently decided to put the entire account up for review.

As a 'courtesy,' they invited us to participate in the pitch.

Wary of not re-engaging with what had been a tenuous, high maintenance relationship at best, I asked our point person to carefully qualify the opportunity. She did so, and reported back that the prospect was 'limiting' the field and would duly note our track record in their evaluation.

Since the budget was respectable, the times were tough and the client sported a recognizable brand name, I gave a reluctant go-ahead. 

Later that very same week, though, O'Dwyer's ran a front page story indicating the prospect was issuing an RFP. Oh boy. 'Danger Will Robinson!!!!!' When O'Dwyer's runs a front page story announcing an RFP, one can safely go to the bank assuming that everyone and their brother will be pitching the account.

Our point person promised to check with the prospect. After doing so, she insisted we still had a great chance and should proceed. So, times being what they were, we did. And, we heard nothing for the longest time. Complete radio silence from the prized prospect.

Then last week, rising like some proverbial Phoenix, the contact resurfaced. We received a long note thanking us for our 'excellent' submission, but letting us know that, sadly, we hadn't made the final round.

To cushion our loss, though, the prospect was nice enough to let us know he'd received some 55, count 'em 55, proposals. Let me repeat that number: 55.

How'd you like to cozy up to 55 public relations proposals over a bottle of chardonnay, some Barry White love songs and a roaring fire? I can think of more romantic weekend escapes.

To further cushion our loss, the prospect really opened up in his note and told us we had made it to the 'semifinal round of 10' agencies. Oh boy! The semifinal round of 10? What are the odds of that? Actually, I guess they'd be one in five. Nonetheless, what an honor! 

And, where would the semifinals be held? Greensboro Coliseum? The Staples Center in LA? MSG itself? And, who else made the semis? Gonzaga? Syracuse? Wake Forest? What a joke.

As Steely Dan wrote, 'They got a name for the winners in the world. I want a name when I lose. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon Blues.'

After this experience, you can also call me Deacon Done. I am so done with not trusting my gut and avoiding these pointless cattle calls.