Apr 11

Bait and switch with a twist: The Sequel

Slide1I was very pleased to see the PRSA's Board of Ethics and Professional Standards held a discussion to address the issue I raised in a previous Repman blog entitled: 'Bait and switch with a twist.'

The blog concerned a new twist on the large agency world's propensity to bait-and-switch team members in order to win a piece of business. The wrinkle in this particular case was the agency's failure to tell the unsuspecting client that each and every team member was a freelancer! The client, frustrated by her inability to reach team members, finally called the large agency's HQs and was told “…no one by those names worked at the firm.” The client was appalled, and so was I.

Unfortunately, though, PRSA board member Emmanuel Tchividjian didn't share my concerns over the moral and ethical implications of passing off hired guns as full-time employees. Speaking on behalf of the ethics board, he said, “It is up to the agency to make sure that the freelancer's skills and experience are adequate for the job to be done. What matters is that promises made to the client be kept and that the quality of the work performed is consistent with the reputation of the agency.” Say what?

Either Mr. Tchividjian didn't read my blog or worse, if he did, didn't grasp the implications of what was written. This wasn't a matter of an agency not disclosing it had hired a freelancer or two to supplement their full-time team. This was a deliberate lie made to a prospect. The large agency presented a complete team of freelancers but passed them off as full-time employees. I don't care how competent they were, the freelancers were hired guns. And, the prospective client should have been told that fact during the pitch process. Period. 

I'm at a complete loss as to why the PRSA doesn't see this as a fundamental breach in ethical business behavior. How can we, as an industry, present ourselves as the moral compass of business & industry when some of us not only practice sleazy sales tactics, but have those tactics blessed by our industry's governing body? It's a scandal within a scandal and I, for one, am very disappointed with the PRSA.

Rogue agencies will come and go. But, we'll never advance professional standards when our industry's top trade association turns a blind eye to misrepresentation and fraudulent practices. It makes each and every one of us look bad.

Aug 09

When your CEO isn’t New York Times worthy

Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine Bennis, running low on contraceptive devices,
Nytimes1 had to decide which boyfriends were and weren't sponge worthy?

The episode came to mind recently when we were fired by a client CEO whose story, despite our very best efforts, was found by reporters at the 'old, gray lady' not to be New York Times worthy.

Never mind that we had scored tons of superb placements in outlets such as Fast Company, general business press, vertical industry and trades. The narcissistic CEO felt his epic tale should be splashed across the front pages of the 'print' edition of The Times. Aside from feeding his Mt. Everest-sized ego, the Times hit was uber critical to the CEO because the other power players in his social circle also routinely appeared in the paper. So, he HAD to be there or else.

Unfortunately, the Times editorial staff disagreed (no matter how many angles we tried). And, since we failed to produce the seminal Times hit, we were summarily discharged.

The CEOs self-aggrandizing misbehavior reminded me of the stereotypical typical dotcom founder who, armed with a freshly-minted Stanford MBA, a me-too business model and millions of dollars in venture capital seed money insisted his mug be front and center on the cover of BusinessWeek. His CMO henchwoman (they were almost always henchwomen, BTW) would nod her head vigorously and add, "How could they not put Halsey on the cover?" Well, nine times out of 10, the professional journalists laughed off the pitch as not being cover worthy and the henchwoman would discard us like yesterday's newspaper.

All of which reminds me of a superb observation the legendary Manhattan PR wizard Howard Rubenstein shared with a PRSA audience many years back. When a prospect or client CEO demanded to be on the front page of The New York Times or the cover of Fortune, Rubenstein said he'd let out an exasperated sigh, lean over, pull open his desk drawer and produce a toy gun. “You want to be on the cover of Forbes? Fine. Go murder someone and I'll get you on the cover of Forbes.” I think that sums it up beautifully.

Stanley Bing's book "Crazy Bosses" contains a hilarious chapter about the care and feeding of self-absorbed, narcissistic maniacs who believe the sun rises and sets with their every move. My only addition to Bing's pearls of wisdom would be to determine expectations BEFORE a relationship begins. If you run into the next George Steinbrenner who needs his ego stoked with one front page feature after another (and you believe the actual news value akin to what Lindsay Lohan was served for breakfast in the L.A. County jail, walk away). Tell the prospect he or she isn't client worthy.

Jul 19

RepMan, APR

So, did you notice those little three letters that follow my blogging nom de plume above? Pretty 
darn impressive, no? The letters stand for Accredited in Public Relations. And, they are the subject of a surprisingly heated debate within the greater public relations hierarchy.

One earns an APR by successfully completing a three-hour, SAT-type test that probes one's views, actions and reactions to hypothetical crisis and brand challenges. Having successfully completed the test, a PR practitioner is considered accredited in public relations. Critically, he or she can henceforth have the APR letters printed on his or her business card.

I wouldn't bother writing about something so insignificant if it weren't for the following:

– An alarmingly large number of otherwise informed and intelligent PR executives actually believe the APR automatically implies quality counseling and leadership ability.
– This same cult believes APR is a critical component in making PR a more credible industry.
– The Public Relations Society of America refuses to allow anyone to hold a senior position without possessing said letters.
– The PRSA charges a hefty sum for individuals to take the test.

Here's the bottom line on the APR. It's a nice little test that agencies can use as part of an overall management training and development program. And, I'm sure it's an ego boost for John Smith or Jane Doe to add the APR to their business cards and correspondence. But, that's as far it goes.

The APR is not an M.D. It's not a Ph.D. and it's not even remotely close to being the equivalent of passing the bar or the Series Seven. In short, it's meaningless in the larger public relations and business worlds. Clients don't demand their agencies are staffed with APR-certified staff. In fact, the vast majority don't even know what it is. Those who do consider it worthless.

And, yet the tempest in the teapot rages on in the power circles of the PRSA. It's sad to see so many 'fundamentalists' hold on to their ancient, bogus beliefs and withhold leadership opportunities to the many highly competent executives who, like me, have never bothered to take the APR test. All this, mind you, while advertising, interactive and other marketing disciplines continue to blur the lines between what they and we do.

It's akin to fiddling while Rome burns.

Jul 12

Was Isaac H. Brown the George Washington of PR?

Depending upon who you ask, Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee is typically credited as having
11brown-cityroom-articleInline 'invented' modern public relations.

But, if one agrees that the average American believes PR is little more than party planning (and PR Week lends that ersatz supposition credibility by naming Kelly Cutrone to its list of PR's 25 most powerful people), then Isaac H. Brown should be seen as our industry's George Washington.

A fascinating New York Times article says the 339-pound Brown was the original Manhattan party planner. In fact, from 1845 until his death in 1880, Brown was the go-to guy for New York's monied class. He'd plan the most minute details of weddings, parties and must-attend events. A chronicler of the era lauded Brown's “…efficiency and authoritative manner.” I wonder if he screamed at his lackeys and played head games with them a la Ms. Cutrone?

Like Ms. Cutrone and her badly abused minions, Brown knew “…just the right merchants from whom tables, chairs and appropriate linen could be rented.” Man, would the housewives of New York and New Jersey not kill for a party planner like the I-Man?

If we are willing to abdicate the image and reputation of PR to party planners, why not go all the way and create an Isaac H. Brown Society (a la The Arthur Page Society, which honors the legacy of America's first corporate communications executive to serve as officer and member of the Board of a major public corporation.) The Brown Society should be highly selective in its membership criteria, choosing only those party planners who have rammed their Mercedes SUVs into Long Island restaurants, besmirched the image of public relations in a long-running television and movie series (think “Sex and the City”) or publicly berated underperforming employees a la Ms. Cutrone. I'd also limit membership to party planners of 25 years of age, or under (Ms. Cutrone and her ilk would be 'grandfathered' into the Society and be named permanent members of the executive committee). The female gender would constitute 90 percent of the Brown Society's membership. Poor behavior would be encouraged at the annual spring conference and backbiting encouraged throughout the year.

Based upon party planning's meteoric rise, I could see the Isaac H. Brown Society becoming our dominant industry organization. There really would be no need for Page, PRSA, the Counselors Academy or IAB since more and more high school and college students aspire to “…do, like, cool parties and like, um, check in celebrities at black tie events and, um, yeah, cool stuff like that. And, wear, like uber cool clothes and stuff.”

Wherever he is, I'll bet Isaac H. Brown is laughing a hearty, 339-lb belly laugh. Manhattan's original party planner was way, way, way head of his time. And, how sad is that for him, for today's party planners and, for the declining fortunes of PR's overall image and reputation?

May 24

The best team-building exercise known to man

been through all the typical team-building exercises on the market, dating back
to the prototypical Stephen Covey stuff of the early 1990s. Some of it works.
Some is a mere band-aid (think: Kaisan).

May 24
it or not, stand-up comedy is the real deal. I saw its potent, team-building
effect once again this weekend at the PRSA Counselors Academy's Spring

Clayton Fletcher, led the workshop and had
his work cut out. His session was scheduled for 8am on Sunday morning (and,
counselors, if nothing else, love to party). So, the group was subdued,
skeptical and, in some cases, a tad out of sorts from the previous night's
extra-curricular activities. 

group of 100 or so PR executives shuffled into Asheville's Grove Park Inn's
main banquet room, stuffed their mouths with breakfast and listened as Clayton
explained why comedy is a powerful tool that dramatically enriches a PR firm's workplace culture
and how it makes all the difference in the world in prospect and client
meetings. The silence was deafening

laying the groundwork, Clayton then asked for a few volunteers to 'perform' a
few minutes of their own material. I held my breath. Then, Janet Tyler of
Airfoil raised her hand, strode to the stage and absolutely killed (as we
comedians like to say). With the ice having been broken, one after another senior
executive dashed to the front of the room to perform. And the audience just
loved it. They pulled really hard for one another, loved 'learning' new things
about the their peers and finally 'got' the connection between comedy and
establishing rapport with an audience and fostering team building within a
group. It was a true Anne Sullivan/Helen Keller 'ah ha' moment.

the hour-long session concluded, the crowd roared its approval, rushed the
podium to ask Clayton if he could run a similar session for their firms and
congratulated one another for their hysterical bits.

was beyond happy. I know the power of comedy in business and have made sure
most Peppercom employees have not only been trained, but that some have
actually performed professionally on stage. And, I know it's helped our
workplace culture.

my proselytizing, however, I've been met with blank stares when I speak about
comedy to other agency owners. Big firms won't do it, believing their in-house
'camps' or 'universities' provide all the presentation skills and team building
necessary. And, smaller firms see it as a cost item they simply can't afford in
this economy.

truth is, stand-up comedy training is a highly-effective, seldom-used training
tool that will pay dividends for years to come. But, I'm fine with other firms
not embracing it. Because, all things being equal, when a prospective client or
employee has to decide a firm with whom to partner, she'll choose the group
that made her smile. And, I'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Apr 07

The best professional development decision I’ve ever made

I'm often stopped on the street by complete strangers who, after requesting spare change, ask me the best professional development decision I've ever made.

April 7 'That's easy,' I reply, as I jiggle some quarters in my pocket. 'It has to be joining the PRSA Counselors Academy.'

I joined the Academy in the early 1990s at the suggestion of Mitch Kozikowski, one of the real mentors in my career. Mitch told me I'd learn a lot, meet great people and have a good time doing both. Man, was he ever right.

So, when the more dubious street people ask for proof points to back up my Counselors Academy retort, I jiggle my change a little harder and say:

– Scores of new ideas and better ways to manage my business
– Hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business either through referrals or from erstwhile Counselors who went to the client side and hired Peppercom
– Countless friendships with great people from all around the country

A Counselors Academy membership is the gift that keeps on giving. That's why you should consider either joining, attending the upcoming Spring Conference, or both. In addition to making you a better public relations counselor, it'll add a whole new dimension to your discussions with panhandlers.

Jul 27

The comma and those three letters mean nothing to me

Today's guest post is by Ed Moed, RepMan's partner and co-founder of Peppercom, and author of the blog, MeasuringUP

John Smith, APR. Over 5,000 public relations practitioners are Accredited Public Relations professionals who Apr
use this moniker (highlighted in red) after their name and title.
According to the PRSA, APR means that these professionals take a
variety of courses, tests and workshops to ensure that they have the
knowledge, skills and abilities to practice PR effectively in today’s
business arena. My partner recently wrote on his blog that this accreditation isn’t worth a dime in today’s fast shifting marketplace. (I think he actually used the word bogus.) I completely agree.

practitioners wear their APR credential like a badge of honor. I see
this when meeting my peers at networking functions and never really
understood it. OK, I’m sure the path to accreditation offers some value
through understanding important tools to leverage in public relations
programs and by becoming acutely aware of certain set of guidelines
(mostly ethical) that practitioners should follow. But, as my partner
flatly stated, there isn’t an accredited program today that prepares PR
professionals with the instinctual savvy that is so needed to operate
and counsel clients in our new era of social media. Sorry, but APR is
no different.

I decided to conduct a little research to better
understand what practitioners actually learn as they are working to
become accredited. So, I went to the PRSA site. There, I listened to a
variety of Podcasts from accredited folks on the value they derived.
One woman enthusiastically discussed how she excelled at developing
important processes focused on campaign development and implementation.
She talked about the necessity of pre-planning for (as an example)
promotions with everything from proper research of target audiences and
venues to budget criteria. She claims that her accreditation was
critical to mastering this. Great. Awesome.  Except, we have a half a
dozen professionals in our special events/promotions group
(Peppercommotions) who have nothing to do with being APR accredited and
can do this stuff in their sleep. And, they do it really well.

point:  I’ve met hundreds of the most talented PR professionals out
there who aren’t APR accredited. Should they be looked at as being only
partially qualified because of this? On the same note, I’ve had the
fortune of meeting a variety of APR professionals who are really good
at what they do. And, of course, have met a few APR dopes throughout
the years as well.

I have two major problems with accredited
programs like APR in the public relations world. The first is that I
truly believe 90-95 percent of what we do is learned through hands on,
real life experience. A smart young account executive will find the
most talented boss or mentor out there and grow though complete osmosis
(that is watching, discovering and learning everything possible that a
mentor does from client counseling to writing to strategic planning).
While APR can offer great rules of thumb, theories and process tools,
its real value is minimal in our world because everything is so focused
on just getting that experience.

Sorry to be so blunt, but my
second beef with APR is that no one cares. Let me restate that. Of
course, those accredited APR people care. But, outside of that,
clients, prospects, business people, Wall Street, high level
governmental professionals, media, etc., etc., etc… can’t be bothered
with it. And, I know that because no one (and I mean no one) has ever
asked the question to me or my management team– are you APR accredited?

why is that? I think it’s because the main concern is always focused on
what real experience do we have? Based on that experience, how smart
and creative can we be? And, can we deliver on those results we agreed
to based on having done it before for others? I really don’t see APR
playing a key role with any of these needs.

I believe that once
upon a time, our leaders felt it was critical to create real rules and
ethics to live by so that the public relations field would be seen as a
professional, respected industry. That is still important. But, I
question whether APR or any other accredited badge of honor is needed
(and more importantly) can maintain a PR person’s relevance in today’s
incredibly fast changing world.

Jul 24

Useless. Useless.

APR Logo bw I've just received an e-mail from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) encouraging me to sign up for an intensive, four-day APR preparation boot camp.

For the unenlightened, APR is an ersatz credential that has been bandied about for decades as proof positive that one is, indeed, accredited in public relations. I've been reluctant to comment publicly about APR because, frankly, I didn't want to offend some industry leaders who actually believe the APR is meaningful.

But, the time has come to take off the gloves and enter the fray. An APR is worthless. It's never meant anything to any client organization I've ever encountered. Nor has it ever made one iota of difference in considering a prospective employee's strengths and weaknesses.

Created long ago and far away, the APR has always lacked any real teeth and is based on a false assumption: that a PR pro should master rules and regulations in the same way a doctor or lawyer must. But, because PR is an art and not a science, there are no hard and fast rules, regulations, practices, policies or procedures that a public relations professional must study and then prove competence in some sort of 'bar exam.' One earns his or her stripes in PR in one way, and one way only: through the School of Hard Knocks.

The APR is even more irrelevant in today's social media environment in which black has become white, and vice versa. Controlled, top-down, inside-out communication has gone the way of the carrier pigeon. And, no four-day boot camp or three-day written exam is going to help me learn to listen or react any better to the quicksilver changes being made by consumers who now decide with whom they wish to speak, as well as when and where.

I wish Dr. Kevorkian could euthanize this bogus test (and credential) once and for all. In the meantime, I'll continue to associate the APR with the immortal final words of John Wilkes Booth who, having been mortally wounded by pursuing Union soldiers, looked at his hands and uttered, “Useless. Useless.”

Apr 01

I always involve the audience

There’s an interesting ‘Career Couch’ column in the March 30th New York Times. Phyllis Korkki interviewsLecturn_2
several ‘coaching’ experts and academics about the fear of public speaking.

The advice was what one would expect and completely appropriate for the novice or veteran speaker. The Korkki column did overlook what, for me, has long been the single best public speaking strategy: involving the audience. Whether it’s a PRSA keynote address, a lecture before college students or sitting on an ‘experts’ panel in front of advertising, digital or marketing experts, I’ve always used audience interaction to accomplish two goals: ease my fear and, well, involve the listeners.

I always try to ask questions of the audience before my speech in order to determine their pain/issues. Then, at the appropriate point in my remarks, I’ll review my ‘research,’ ask if it’s accurate and invite audience members to elaborate (this works beautifully in front of small groups and overflowing auditorium alike). While the audience, speaks, I listen and adapt my upcoming comments. I also slow down my breathing and collect my thoughts. And, it works like a charm.

So, the next time you’re stressing over a speech, ask the audience to help you out. Trust me, they’ll love it and you’ll breath an extra sigh of relief.