Jan 06

My apologies to Andrea

I did something yesterday that I guarantee no holding company CEO has EVER done. I swapped  42-20042220 jobs with Ray Carroll, our superb receptionist.

So, for a full day, I answered phones, made copies, welcomed visitors, modulated the temperature in the office and signed for multiple lunch orders placed by our hard-working staff (more to come on that).

It was an enlightening experience to say the least. I learned that being a receptionist can be the best of all worlds and the worst of all worlds. At its best, the job made me feel like a front-line brand ambassador empowered to make sure every person 'touching' the Peppercom brand had a positive experience.

At its worst, being a receptionist can resemble being stuck inside a video game. Phones were ringing off the hook, visitors were entering the lobby, employees were IMing requests for me to lower the heat and delivery guys were dropping off food. All at the same time! How do you spell stressful?

I'm proud to say that, with one glaring exception, I excelled in my new job. That exception, though, was a real beaut.

Right around noontime, three or four delivery guys arrived with lunch orders. I dutifully signed each receipt and began IMing the individuals to come to the front desk and retrieve their grub. Everyone responded except Andrea. That's when I realized we didn't have an Andrea working for us.
 
So, I sent an office-wide memo letting everyone know there was a free, unclaimed lunch waiting in the kitchen.

Now, fast forward 90 minutes. The elevator doors opened and in walked one of the delivery guys I'd met earlier along with a very agitated young woman. She charged up to the reception desk and barked, 'Do you have my lunch?' I smiled and said, 'And, you must be Andrea?'

Andrea (who I quickly learned works elsewhere in our building) nodded. I told her we had her lunch (happily, no one had claimed it). I went to retrieve it and handed it over with a smile. 'Where's the receipt?' She demanded. 'I used my credit card to place this order!'

I couldn't find the receipt anywhere. I remembered signing it but, with the total chaos of the moment, had lost track of it.

Andrea wasn't buying any of it. 'Look,' she said to me. 'You seem like a nice guy, but you have my credit card information.'

I assured her I wasn't an identity thief and promised to keep looking for the errant receipt. She was incredibly upset and lashed out at the delivery guy and me in heated Spanish. Not being fluent in the language, I wasn't sure what she was saying, but it certainly wasn't complimentary of my receptionist skills.

Andrea eventually left with her lunch (and minus her receipt). And, I went back to work, shaking like a leaf.

Being Ray Carroll for a day was an amazing experience that gave me all sorts of insights into the job, its critical role as part of the Peppercom brand promise and the importance of hanging onto receipts.

Oh, and what, you may ask, was Ray doing during the day? He experienced my daily existence: so, he sent several internal memos that were chock-a-block with inane, nonsensical comments. He went to the gym for a long workout. He attended various meetings and interrupted serious conversations with other inane, nonsensical comments. And, he answered my desperate IMs asking how to do his job.

So, here's a challenge to Andy Polansky, Richard Edelman, Pat Ford and all  the other CEOs of holding company PR firms: I dare you to step back from strategy, innovation and administration tasks for just one day and swap jobs with your receptionist. You'll learn things you never knew. Your receptionist will love being 'you' for a day. And, your employees will have a newfound respect for you. Just make sure to hang onto those damn receipts.

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?