Sep 23

Going mobile (and global)

Monica Teague, Senior Manager, PR, Brand Business Teams, Whirlpool, Tom Topinka, Public Relations Leader, Genworth and Amber Harris, Manager of Digital Communications for Discovery Communications work for completely different businesses and are faced with completely different communications challenges.

But, as you’ll hear in the second part of the podcast we recorded to mark Peppercom’s 15th anniversary, all three agree the future will be dominated by mobile and global communications.

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with our guests? Or, is there some other soon-to-emerge technology or movement that will supersede mobile and global?  Click on the gray bar below, and enjoy.


Sep 14

What’s it all mean?

Peppercom_logo It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Dickens may have written those lines more than 150 years ago. But, the same could be said about the present and future fortunes of the public relations industry. The most recent economic downturn may adversely impacted our profession, but, we’ve bounced back rather nicely.

That said, there are more challenges, obstacles and hurdles facing our profession than ever before. So, what’s a senior corporate counselor or agency executive to do? That’s the question my business partner, Ed, and I posed to three top corporate communications executives:

  • Monica Teague, Senior Manager, PR, Brand Business Teams, Whirlpool
  • Tom Topinka, Public Relations Leader, Genworth
  • Amber Harris, Manager of Digital Communications for Discovery Communications.

We recorded 30 minutes on two separate podcasts. The first contains their views on the present. Next week, we’ll post the second part containing their predictions for what lies ahead. Enjoy. And, please let us know if you agree, disagree or simply aren’t a fan of Charles Dickens to begin with.


Mar 01

It may seem like heresy to say in certain PR agency circles, but social media isn’t a silver bullet

March 1 - social-media-waste-of-time I’m more convinced than ever that social media is merely one in a series of ‘tools’ with which to engage in conversation. I say this at a time when advertising agencies, digital, shops and PR firms alike are battling for every available client dollar being allocated to social media. I say this at a time when PR agencies in particular are stressing out that their advertising and digital brethren will ‘own’ the big social media idea and, hence, the relationship. I say this at a time when two large clients of ours recently pulled us aside and said, ‘Hey, just a heads-up, but you no longer have to worry about only PR competitors calling up to get my business. Now, ad agencies and web designers are doing the same.’ That’ll do a number on one’s getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s all merely subterfuge as far as I’m concerned. A consumer (regardless of whether he is a consumer or B-to-B purchaser) will make a buying decision based upon trust. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer says consumers surveyed now check five distinct sources (digital and traditional alike) before engaging with a brand. That sounds a tad excessive to me. Who has the time to check five distinct sources about anything nowadays? I sure don’t. I think our very own Sam Ford comes much closer to the reality of the situation when he says social media isn’t a silver bullet. It’s merely one part of a brand’s arsenal of communications weapons with which to build trust, become recommended and, eventually, stimulate purchase.

I recently addressed two very different corporate groups on the subject of social media. The first was comprised of 25 ‘next generation’ fast trackers in the corporate communications departments of Fortune 500 companies. They stopped me in my tracks by saying social media wasn’t growing in importance as part of their overall marketing spend, nor was it being seen by the C-suite as a panacea. The second group was composed of human resource managers at very large professional services firms. They had the opposite point-of-view. They’d been told by their executives to figure out what was happening in social media and to ‘get something’ installed for employee communications ASAP.

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Feb 24

With Disney pulling the strings, ABC should stand for Always Be Cutting

My business partner recently wrote a glowing blog about his Disney experiences. There's no doubt Fct_a39e5ff862f9add that Disney does entertainment remarkably well. I'll bet Walt is smiling as he looks down from that Magic Kingdom in the sky.

That said, entertainment properties such as Disney have no real understanding of, or appreciation for, journalism. To them, it's an expense item. Period.

So, although it's sad to see, it comes as no surprise that Disney-owned ABC News is trimming 300 to 400 journalists from its staff. That's 25 percent of the total. ABC News president David Westin said "The time has come to rethink how we do what we are doing.” That's corporate speak for “I was just following orders.”

Journalism has really taken it on the chin in recent years. First, there were the acquisitions of ABC, NBC and others by media conglomerates. Then came the rise of the 500-plus cable channel universe. The real cataclysm, though, came with the social media explosion that gave rise to millions upon millions of citizen journalists. Choices were everywhere and everyone was calling herself a journalist. What was a poor news network to do?

ABC News never had a Walter Cronkite or Huntley/Brinkley. But, the network has produced some of the profession's best newscasters and journalists all the same.

The stripped-down remnants of the remaining operation prompt a Disney-like analogy in my mind: ABC News is Pinocchio to Disney's Geppetto. When business and entertainment types control the strings, objective news coverage suffers. And, we all pay the price for a society that continues to be dominated by sleazy tabloid 'news' as opposed to true journalism. Where are Woodward & Bernstein when we really need them?

Nov 16

Dirty Pool

November 16 - awards I've had the opportunity to judge everything from the Silver Anvils and CIPRAs to the PR Week and Big Apple industry awards. And, while I'm honored to be asked, I have to tell you something: the industry awards programs are badly broken.

They're broken in one, fundamental way: big agencies are allowed to submit as many entries per category as they choose. They pay the same amount per entry as does a small, two-person start-up. And, that's unfair.

Let me cite specifics. I'm currently judging the 'digital/social media' category for one of these awards' programs. If you can believe it, there are no fewer than 75 separate entries for one award! To begin with, that's absurd. Who wants to pay serious money for a one-in-75 chance?

But, here's the real issue. Right alongside 11 (yes, 11!) entries from the world's largest public relations firm is one from a start-up I've never heard of. And, a panel that includes me, and probably four or five other time-pressured judges, has to choose the best. What are the odds the start-up will win?

I've actually tallied up the entries. Of the 75 in total, no fewer than 37 come from the top 10 agencies. Talk about unfair competition! Nearly 50 percent of the digital/social media category entries come from four or five PR firms.

So, here's a question to the powers that be at these awards' shows: why don't you price the entry fees by the size of the agency? Instead of charging every agency $375 per submission, why not charge the Webers, Fleishmans and Ketchums double or triple the fee? They're probably a hundred times larger than some of the other competitors.

If the media properties did so, it would lessen the deluge from the largest firms, level the playing field and, probably, raise even more money for their cash-starved coffers.

I'm amazed more small and midsized agencies don't complain about this obvious inequity. It's dirty pool.

Oct 26

Look both ways before crossing an intersection and listen to all stakeholders before engaging in social media

October 26 I recently shared a Bulldog Reporter audio conference panel with two corporate communicators and another representative from the dark side (read: PR firms). The topic was social media and, thanks to some excellent moderating by the lovely and talented Brian Pittman, the discussion was rather lively.

I found myself disagreeing with one of the corporate panelists who advised the 150-plus listening audience to engage in social media at all costs, 'Look,' he advised, 'Social media is the future and you might as well engage sooner rather than later.'

I agreed, sort of. I think personal engagement in social media is, indeed, a no-brainer. But, an organization should think long and hard before taking the plunge. The corporate panelist said organizations can learn as they go. Well, yes, but some serious, and potentially devastating missteps can occur during that learning phase.

I likened social media to a busy intersection in a large city. Conventional wisdom holds that one should look both ways before crossing. Social media is the same: organizations should listen to all stakeholders before proceeding. Does each and every audience need/want your organization to engage with them in a social media dialogue? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe information overloaded employees don't want or need a company Facebook page. Maybe long-standing customers prefer the pleasures of a face-to-face meeting over a Don Draper-like scotch and soda. And maybe local community leaders expect a town hall type back-and-forth on issues of the day.

The social media land rush mentality can undermine your organization's image, reputation and credibility if you dive in without listening first.

Brian Pittman asked what sort of questions an organization should ask of its stakeholders during a listening phase. That's easy: the exact same questions neophyte journalists are trained to ask before crafting a news article: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Make sure your audiences want to engage in social media before you decide to flip on the switch. Just because your management wants to, or your competitors are doing it or, even worse, some expert says it's here to stay and you better engage are the wrong reasons.

In the same way rushing across an intersection can be detrimental to one's health, diving pell-mell into social media can be dangerous to one's brand.

Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Jun 23

I highly recommend it

Public relations is in the midst of unprecedented change. Traditional media relations, while still important, has been equaled, if not surpassed by social media. Indeed, we’re seeing more and more clients ask about word-of-mouth. How does one inspire, motivate and encourage a prospective or current customer to ‘recommend’ an organization’s product or service to a peer? The answer  to that single question contains the key to the future of marketing communications.

June 23 - socialmedia  

Like many forward-looking organizations, we’re grappling with how one goes about ‘encouraging’ or ‘enabling’ recommendations. We don’t know the full answer, but we have some ideas. In the spirit of openness and transparency, we’d like to get your perspective as well.

So, if you don’t mind, click the survey link below and let me know what you think. I promise to share the findings in a future blog that, I hope, you’ll highly recommend to others.

Check out the survey here.

Apr 27


April 27 - PlaxcoUntil a few seconds ago, I was blissfully unaware that Henry Feintuch's birthday was a mere seven days away. Now, though, thanks to the fine folks at Plaxo Pulse, I'm not only forewarned, I'm forearmed. Phew! That was close.

Truth be told, I have no idea who Henry Feintuch is. I'd guess he's a member of the Feintuch clan. But, that's mere speculation on my part. He could be one of the Kentucky Feintuch's, the Iowa Feintuch's or, heaven forbid, the Dakota Feintuch's. I've heard some of the Dakota Feintuch boys ran into trouble a while back.

I wish Henry a very happy birthday in advance (and many more as well!). But, I have about as much use for this information as I do, say, for the price of tea in China (a dated expression that may be considered politically incorrect in today's PC world).

So, cutting to the image and reputation chase, what good is a service that has done absolutely nothing for me since I registered? Facebook is fun, since I can occasionally check out new pics of old friends. And Linked In is an absolutely essential new business and networking tool, or so our strategy consultant tells me (truth be told, though, my 300 or so Linked In connections really haven't done anything for me). But, Plaxo and its birthday greetings? Gimme a break.

Call me old school but, when it comes to business development and networking, I'm an F-to-F guy (that's face-to-face).

Henry, do have a happy, happy birthday. But understand that my feelings for Plaxo and its advance birthday warnings can be best summed up by the immortal last words of a mortally wounded John Wilkes Booth, who stared at his hands and sighed, 'Useless. Useless.'