Dec 15

The best possible preparation for a career in PR? Being a Mets and Jets fan

A Tip o' RepMan's cap to Sir Edward Moed for this idea.

 Forget about four years of undergraduate study at Syracuse, Northeastern or The College of  Charleston. And, don't stress about landing world-class internships at say, Ketchum, Coyne or Airfoil. If you really want to succeed at public relations, just adopt the New York Mets and Jets as your teams of choice.

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Here's why: rooting for the Mets and Jets perfectly parallels a career in PR. Both the Mets and Jets were built to disappoint their fans. Cheering for them toughens one up, opens one's mind to the harsh realities of the world in which we live and teaches one to bounce back from the most devastating of failures.

Think about it. PR is rife with ups and downs. And, like the 1969 World Series and Super Bowl victories by the Mets and Jets, respectively, the highs in PR can rival a long hit of crystal meth (that's anecdotal evidence, BTW). But, the unexplained client firings, the unwarranted editorial 'thumbs down' from PR Week's Keith O'Brian in 2006 and the countless serial prospects who pick your mind clean of ideas and then leave you hanging, can transform a Charlie Chuckle to a Debbie Downer in a heartbeat. And, those heartbreaks beautifully mirror the average Mets and Jets' seasons.

Rooting for the Mets and Jets is superb training for PR. I do not exaggerate when I say the resiliency that comes along with being a long-suffering Mets/Jets fan has made me a better public relations executive. I'm able to maintain a steady keel when others tend to panic. I treat small wins for what they are and don't allow myself to hop on the roller coaster ride that is the average day, week, month or year in PR.

I thank the Mets and Jets for toughening me up. That thick skin has served me well for years of 100 percent growth and 20 percent decline. It's also made me increasingly philosophical as I watched an over-achieving 2010 Mets team peak this past June before plummeting in July. And, it's been an invaluable asset as I've winced in pain as the once high-riding, trash-talking 2010 Jets have crash landed in a particularly ugly way.

So, do you want to succeed in PR? Switch your team allegiances now. You'll hate the decades of losing, but you'll thank me one day for the lessons in stoicism you've learned along the way.

Dec 09

An executive assistant is an underappreciated asset in any organization’s image

I’m not wild about the new monthly edition of PR Week, but I am positively addicted to Don   I_love_my_gate_keeper_mug-p1682737315052565782obaq_152 Spetner’s column. A former agency and corporate guy, Spetner today serves as EVP of corporate affairs at Korn/Ferry, the big international recruiting firm. His columns are always insightful, often funny and, in the most recent instance, a catalyst for today’s blog.

In his December column, Spetner waxes poetic about the important role executive assistants play in the health, well-being and productivity of the corporate chief executive officer. He’s 100 percent right. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and work with quite a few excellent executive assistants over the years and have always been amazed at how effortlessly they handle the most complicated schedules. They’re worth their weight in gold.

Spetner also shares strategies for winning over an executive assistant in order to gain access to the coveted C-suite. Again, his advice is spot on. What he doesn’t touch on, though, are examples of executive assistants from hell, and the impact they can have on an organization’s image and reputation.

For example, I’ve sometimes returned the call of a corporate bigwig only to be given a serious cold shoulder by the palace guard. She’ll (typically, the guard is female) ask what my call is in reference to (they always use that phrase “What is your call in reference to?” Why not a simple: “What up?”). When I say that I’m returning “Don’s’ call,” (I’ll be sure to use the bigwig’s first name to let the assistant know I’m a player), and she’ll ratchet up her attention a tad and ask, “And what organization do you represent?” I typically respond by saying, “Peppercom. But I’m also a friend.” That usually works pretty well. Seconds later, the executive assistant will return and be just as sickly sweet as can be, “Oh Mr. Cody, I am sooooo sorry for making you wait. Don will speak to you right away.”  Not that it matters in this particular instance, but Don doesn’t know his executive assistant has not exactly endeared herself to me. And, in a different set of circumstances (say, an important prospective customer call), her attitude could have been damaging.

Then there’s the power trip move by the CEO and his executive assistant from hell. I remember when one CEO in particular was courting me, he’d always have his secretary call on his behalf. I’d answer the phone by saying, “Steve Cody.” There’d be a pause and then the palace guard would announce in a deep and dramatic voice, “Please hold for Mr. Hugebottom.” Naturally, I’d have to wait a good 20 or 25 seconds before his nibs would deign to join the call. And, naturally, he’d always have me on speaker to further underscore his importance.

I’m blessed to have an executive assistant who does an incredible job of fending off office space brokers (leave me alone, Scott Brown) as well as the boiler room guys with stock tips and the suppliers who just need 30 seconds of my time. Dandy also knows how and when to apply the personal touch with clients and prospective clients. And, when it comes to family and friends, she’ll bend over backwards to make things work. In short, just like Ray Carroll, our superb receptionist, Dandy is a critical component to our overall image.

I’m not sure CEOs think about organizational image and reputation when they hire executive assistants. But, they should. As it turns out, I never succumbed to that CEO’s myriad job offers way back when. Thinking about it now, I believe his executive assistant’s boorish behavior was one of the factors in my turning thumbs down.

Sep 09

A Wigotsky in every agency

I must commend PR Week's 2010 career guide. It's chock full of information that's as useful to an  undergrad as it is to an agency principal.

Careerguidecover_117145_117858_117859 Stories include a roundtable discussion on the importance of a master's degree in PR (color me skeptical) and a fascinating profile of Harold Burson and his legacy to the agency that bears his name.

Burson produced a plethora of industry leaders over the years, including Ketchum's Rob Flaherty, CA's Bill Hughes and PulsePoint Group's Bob Feldman. The latter said his training at Burson began the day he joined the firm from Utica College in 1978. Feldman recalls a training program that mandated ALL writing done for clients was to be first reviewed by a former newspaper editor on staff. Feldman says the procedure made a great statement about the firm's commitment to quality.

I agree. I had the exact same experience as a young junior account executive at Hill & Knowlton. We, too, had a former editor check each and every piece of copy before it went to a client. My editor's name was Victor Wigotsky and he made a big impression on me.

Victor was a very demanding editor. Before he'd even give you his edits, he'd ask you what the story angle was and why it mattered. He'd then ask you what primary or secondary research supported the angle. Only when you'd provided the correct answers would Vic deign to review your copy. And, boy oh boy, was he ever meticulous in his edits. I cannot tell you how many times he'd send me scurrying back to my office because I'd buried a lead, hadn't nailed the 5Ws in the lead graph or neglected to correctly attribute a quote.

Victor was never mean, but he was strict. And we learned as a result. I'll never forget how happy I was when one of my initial press releases finally earned a 'VWW.' Those were Victor's initials and secretaries (yes, we all had secretaries back then) were under orders not to mail (yes, snail mail only) releases or bylined articles unless they saw the VWW stamp of approval.

I wish today's PR agency model had the time and financial wherewithal to mandate at least one Wigotsky in every firm. Unfortunately, between the 24×7 demand for constant content and the worst economic downturn in memory, there are few, if any, firms who insist ALL copy be reviewed by a Wigotsky-type first. As a result, I continually hear or read about poor writing when I attend events or scan our trades.

It's too bad that Wigotsky (and his Burson counterpart) are gone with the wind. I think everyone's writing would benefit from a VWW every now and then. Mine included.

Aug 23

For every APCO, there always seems to be a Command PR

(Tip o' RepMan's rock climbing helmet to Julie Farin for this blog idea.)

Kathy Cripps, president of The Council of PR Firms, recently waxed poetic about APCO's Alg_spin_crowd high-profile role in H-P's dismissal of CEO Mark Hurd (a knee jerk reaction based on poor counseling in this blogger's opinion, BTW).

In her blog, Kathy opined that PR no longer needs to aspire to gain a seat at the C-suite table because we already have. I posted a response to the effect, “Well, maybe, some have. But, we still have a long, long way to go.”

PR IS making great strides and, regardless of APCO's questionable counseling, we ARE being invited to attend more and more strategic decision making pow-wows. But, virtually no one knows it.

Thanks to Hollywood, the average American still thinks PR consists of little more than celebrity party planning, intra-office 'Jersey Shore' type dramas and mindless, bubblegum-chewing girls manning the phones.

The latest travesty is being broadcast on E! and is called 'The Spin Crowd.' It follows the exploits of Command PR, its histrionic owner, Jonathan Cheban, and his manic staff. Cheban says his new show is different than its predecessors and depicts PR as: “We're not just sitting there, wearing all black and looking depressed,” he said. “We're a lot more exciting. We're out there working it. We go to the Hamptons. We're in Miami. We're in planes and yachts, and the girls always look gorgeous and fashionable.” Hmmm, that does sound much more like the PR that I know. Ed, for example, rarely wears black. And, the man is “always working it.” Ted, now that I think of it, always seems headed to the Hamptons to counsel some mysterious client. And, me, well I do my best to look gorgeous and fashionable each and every day.

I jest. But, shows like ‘The Spin Crowd’ do real damage to PR's image. This is purely anecdotal to be sure, but I guarantee the average college or university PR major is much more likely to watch ‘The Spin Crowd’ and be sucked in by the drama than they are to scan the pages of The Wall Street Journal and analyze the APCO/H-P story (which, BTW, contains enough accusations of sexual hijinks, financial malfeasances and other good “stuff and things” to grab the attention of even the most ADD-addled 21-year-old).

Our industry leaders can write all the self-congratulatory blogs they like. The fact is, though, that Americans understand LESS about public relations today than ever before. Oh, and by the way, shame on PR Week for naming Kelly Cutrone one of the 25 most influential people in PR. If you aren't part of the solution, PR Week staffers, you're part of the problem. Question: will we see Jonathan Cheban vying with Richard Edelman for the coveted top spot in your 2011 rankings?

May 26

When it comes to hard-hitting, investigative reporting, the ad trades have no peer

May 26
love reading Advertising Age and Adweek. They not only tell me the latest,
greatest thinking in the 'other' marketing disciplines, but they aren't afraid
take off the gloves and slam inappropriate behavior by client and agency alike.

current Ad Age provides a great example. In a front page article, Ad Age goes
behind the scenes to report on Chevy's reprehensible treatment of their
erstwhile agency of record Publicis. Readers learn about incoming CMO Joel
Ewanick's refusal to meet or even speak with the account managers from
Publicis. He didn't even return their repeated e-mails and voice mails.
Instead, he shifted the entire Chevy brand's $600 million account to his good
friend, Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein. That's the sort of atrocious
client-side behavior that deserves to be outed.

Chevy saga is one of many examples of the ad trades not being afraid to tackle
misbehaving clients. Earlier this year, Ad Age warned its agency readers of
'serial' clients such as 1-800-FLOWERS, Quiznos and BMW who chew up and spit
out agencies every few months.

PR trades are just the opposite. They'll whack agencies for underperforming or
not delivering on anticipated results but seldom, if ever, go after poor client
behavior. As an example, PR Week once gave us a 'thumbs down' because the
editor at the time said I hadn't been as vocal an advocate for independent
agencies as the publication's editorial staff had expected. So, they publicly
slammed my agency for an apparent personal shortcoming.

Holmes Report, Bulldog and others are quick to jump on agency account wins and
losses (and love to send an e-mail to the effect, 'Hey, we just heard ABC
Widgets is putting your account up for review. Any comment?'). But, their
heart-warming profiles of CMOs, VPs of corporate communications and PR
directors read like 'The Lives of the Saints.'

high time PR industry trades began publishing in-depth, investigative pieces
like the Ad Age/Chevy piece. I'm not sure why there's such a reluctance to do
so, but it results in readers only getting half of what's really happening. So,
note to Steve, Paul and others: provide a real service to your agency readers
and let us know about the Joel Ewanek's and the 1-800-FLOWERS of PR. Trust me,
there are enough horror stories to fill multiple editions. 

Mar 03

Introverts, Inc.

March 3 - Meg_introvert What do PR Week’s Aarti Shah, Ogilvy’s Dushka Zapata and this blogger have in common? We’re all introverts making a go of it in professions dominated by extroverts.

Aarti outs her introverted self in a current editorial. Dushka did the same in a recent blog. Aarti congratulates Dushka for coming out of the closet by saying, ‘…several other PR pros have confided to her (Dushka) that they are also introverts, but that they don’t want to admit this publicly for fear of being misjudged.’ As a lifelong introvert, I find the comment amusing, if not alarming.

Being extroverted has never been a prerequisite to success in my business. I’m all about listening to the client, the reporter or the peer and then engaging in a mutually beneficial conversation. Extroverts can easily go over the line and become too aggressive, too obnoxious and, ultimately, fail. Introverts, as Aarti points, are naturally good listeners, a critical factor in traditional and digital communications.

Aarti is correct in saying too many graduating college student perceive PR to be a ‘people business.’ It is. But, then, what business isn’t? How could it be a business without people?

I’ve found ways to overcome my innate shyness by taking courses on improvisation and stand-up comedy. Both have made me much more comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I also like to challenge myself physically with ice, rock and mountain climbing. That may sound like a solitary avocation, but one is thrown in with all sorts of strangers who share the same goal, whether it’s summiting Kilimanjaro or pulling oneself up a frozen waterfall in Rumney, N.H.

It’s not always fun being an introvert, but it provides tons of intangible benefits, especially to public relations professionals.

So, here’s a shoutout to Aarti and Dushka for owning up to being introverts. I’m with you, guys. In fact, I think we should take our mutual bond to the next level. Let’s quit our day jobs and start a new business that is of, by and for introverts. We’ll call it Introverts, Inc. And, we’ll only represent brands that are too shy to ballyhoo their latest, greatest product or service. I even have an idea who our anchor client should be: Northwestern Mutual: The Quiet Company. Talk about a marriage made in heaven.

Mar 17

The lost generation

A recent PRWeek editorial posited the view that industry leaders have done a poor job of Capt.7a23ccc1c683d417205acba34c397564
explaining why the AIG's and Citigroup's of the world are entitled to spend their bailout money to hire PR firms. Where, the publication asked, are our leaders?

I would ask the very same question. But I would apply it to 'helping the next generation of PR pros.' Where are our leaders? Where are PR Week (as well as every other trade publication and industry association)?

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen, read or heard a single word aimed at assisting PR/communications majors who are about to graduate from college.

Where are the 'how to' columns? Where are the guest by-liners? Where are the podcasts and blogs containing useful tips for the next generation?

Industry trade pubs and associations are quick to publish articles about cost-cutting best practices and ways in which agencies can provide more value for lower fees. And, I wish I had a dollar for every opinion piece about measurement and 'what's next' in social media. But, where's the long-term thinking? Where's the investment in our industry's future?  Where is the practical knowledge our college kids need before they enter what may very well be the worst job market in 70 years?

To be sure, there are some individual leaders who are helping the college seniors: Tom Martin and Brian McGee at the College of Charleston come to mind. So do Larry Parnell at George Washington University and Maria Russell at Syracuse. But, where are the editors, reporters, association presidents and agency leaders?

We're only one midsized firm, but we're doing our best to try and help. For example:

– We're hosting a podcast next week that will be composed exclusively of college seniors majoring in PR. We're going to ask them what they're doing to prepare for graduation, how they are differentiating themselves and ask them to share best practices.

– We’ve posted a podcast on our website created by our interns. It's an amazing 'how to' in terms of succeeding at one's first job. It also lists things the interns know now that they wish they knew then. And, it includes tips for winning a job interview.

– We're also actively lecturing at colleges such as NYU, Northeastern, Monmouth University, the University of Vermont, Baruch, the College of Charleston, and others.

The average college senior has about six weeks until graduation. Many, though, are like deer caught in the headlights. They often use words like 'terrified,' when I ask them how they're feeling about the future. They have no job prospects, are saddled with significant student loans to pay and, worst of all, have no industry media or associations providing mentorship or advice.

So, here's a quick note to PRWeek, et al: hold off on the navel gazing for at least one week and devote some ink and advice to the next generation. It's later than we think.

May 05

What did they know and when did they know it?

PR Weeks’ annual agency business report provides a nice dive into the country’s top 47 firms. It’sMarkpenn_2
polished, professional and to the point. But, curiously, it leads with a questionable selection and an even more questionable word choice.

Each of the top agencies in the section, you see, is defined by a word selected by the PR Week staff. Weber Shandwick is called ‘the heavyweight.’ No argument there. Ketchum is given ‘the linchpin’ moniker. Ah, ok, if you say so. And, Fleishman is proudly proclaimed ‘the titan,’ which sounds like something straight out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But, and here’s where I wonder what the PR Week folks were thinking, they lead off their entire list with Mark Penn and Burson-Marsteller, proclaiming both as ‘the counselor.’ Ouch. Talk about bad timing.

Why lead with Penn, when he’s just been pilloried because of improper connections with Hillary (hey, that rhymes!)? A John Budd letter to the editor earlier in the very same edition takes Penn to task for his obvious conflict of interest mistake. And, yet, a few pages later, there he is in all his glory.

All of which leads me to wonder if PR Week’s left and right hands were not communicating. Or, did someone decide, ‘Hey, what the heck? It’s a nice photo of Mark and he is a counselor, a counselor whose credibility and ethics have been seriously called into question, but so what? Let’s go ahead and lead our special section with him anyway.’ Or, worse, did someone not connect the dots?

It’s all very puzzling, and leads me to ask the age-old journalism question of our lead trade journal: What did they know and when did they know it?

May 24

Time travel is so much fun

In anticipation of our firm’s Spring cleaning this Thursday, I started rifling through some old files and deep-sixing unnecessary clutter. As I did, I came across a true relic that presented a mini time portal to another era that, thankfully, is dead and buried.

The artifact was the January 11, 1999 issue of PR Week, which I had held onto because of a page-six article heralding Peppercom’s winning the GE Financial Assurance account (beating Fleishman and Bozell Worldwide in the process. Bozell Worldwide? Where are they now?).

Anyway, as I scanned the entire issue, I came across some real time-period gems, including:

– An editorial presumably penned by then Editor-In-Chief Adam Leyland bemoaning the fact that national business publications had been missing the boat on the huge, upcoming Y2K crisis. He wrote: "The Millennium Bug is not just a technology problem; as much as anything it is a problem of communication. He cited a recent USA Today survey in which 46 percent of respondents expected air traffic control systems to fail. Yet, Leyland said, most airlines were "…adopting little more than a cautiously reactive approach to media inquiries." The text goes on and on to warn about the major business disruptions about to occur and industry’s seeming lack of proactive communications outreach. He felt Y2K was a huge opportunity for the PR industry to shine. In fact, as we now know, Y2K was much ado about nothing and Y2K preparedness was one of the major hoaxes of the late 1990s.

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