Feb 16

You da man!


I had a fascinating conversation the other day with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun and his senior communications strategists. We were discussing the subject of trust, the erosion of trust in virtually every segment of society, and the need for current and future generations to re-adjust their definitions of success as a result.

I volunteered that I’d noticed quite a few Millennial-focused surveys of late in which respondents seem to accept the very real possibility that, due to the economy, limited job options, staggering student loans and global competition, they may never attain their parents’ level of success. But, many seem undaunted and, in fact, point to new, and different, definitions of success, including: 

-      Achieving a work-life balance

-      Feeling fulfilled in one’s occupation

-      Believing one’s contributions are somehow making a difference for the better.

That’s very different from the definition of success when I grew up.

We were told one wasn’t successful unless one at least earned one’s age (i.e. $25,000 per annum if one were 25 years old, etc.). We were also led to believe that success meant getting married, fathering 2.4 kids, as well as owning a dog and a house with the requisite white picket fence (I scored with the wife and two kids, and now am pleased to say I report to two pooches: Mick and Rooney, respectively).

I also came of age in the Me Generation, monster-of-the-universe Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is Good’ Wall Street era. In fact, I distinctly remember a great example of success in the late 20th century. We were dining with my next door neighbor who, at the time, toiled at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. He was boasting about a huge raise and year-end bonus. Then, he glanced down at his PDA and shouted: ‘Look at this! ‘My boss just e-mailed saying, Jimmy, you da man!’ It was nauseating to say the least.

Well, with Wall Street, Main Street and just about every other street either stagnating or in full retreat, the You Da Man moments seem to be dwindling in an inverse ratio to our country’s budget deficit. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some incredibly successful executives rising through the ranks in the near and long-term future; it just means there will be fewer masters and mistresses of the universe.

So, knowing that, how have you personally re-defined success? I’m especially interested in hearing from my Millennial readers (as well as the Generation X and Baby Boomers who have been forced to re-set their expectations as a result of the New Normal). Success is still there for each and every one of us. It just may no longer look like a million dollar paycheck, a trophy wife, two kids, a dog, a house and a picket fence anymore.  

What will it look like to you, and what do you envision prompting a boss or peer to text a message saying, ‘You da man!'


Sep 22

When in doubt, blame others

Birds don't do it. Bees don't do it. But, big business sure does it. “It” is blaming others for one's Blame-game mistakes.

The latest example came a few days ago when my beloved, primary source of commutation, NJ Transit, blamed Amtrak for its record 1,400 delays this past summer.

Talk about the summer from hell. NJT experienced 1,400 delays in a period of 90 days! Now, I'm not a math wizard, but that adds up to a staggering 150 or so delays a day. I'm surprised any of their damn trains moved at all.

But, hey, don't blame NJT. It wasn't their fault. A lead spokesperson pointed the finger at Amtrak, from whom NJT leases 'track time' on the Northeast Corridor. He said that, since Amtrak has always been underfunded by the government and unable to keep pace with needed maintenance, NJT really isn't to blame for overheated 20-year-old locomotives, overhead wires that drooped in the heat and electric power interruptions. That's the business equivalent of a kid saying the dog ate his homework.

To add insult to injury, NJT also implemented an across-the-board fare hike this summer. That's akin to charging the Titanic passengers a surcharge for life jackets.

NJT officials certainly aren't alone when it comes to pointing fingers at others. BP has made it something of an art form. So, too, have Wall Street executives who shrugged their shoulders when the markets collapsed but happily continue to pocket record bonuses.

No one's better at obfuscation, though, than religious leaders. My favorite is Brother Harold Camping, a Bible expert who holds court on a national cable channel.

The 90-year-old, hearing impaired, former engineer sits in a dilapidated studio, holding a Bible and entertaining questions from viewers. But, whenever an above-average viewer stumps Brother Camping with one of the Bible's countless contradictions, he claims not to have heard or understood what was just asked. So, he thanks the viewer for her question and simply hangs up. It's hilarious to watch.

Recently, the self-proclaimed Bible authority was thrown a real caller curve: “Brother Camping,” said the caller, “please explain how the Bible preaches an eye for an eye in one section but advises us to turn the other cheek in another?” Brother Camping squinted at the camera, fidgeted in his chair and finally responded by saying, “Unless you can cite the specific passages, I can't answer. But, thank you for calling Open Forum.” Classic dodge.

Brother Camping has somehow added, multiplied, subtracted and divided various 'mathematical clues' in the bible and declared that May 22, 2011, will be the end of the world. About 15 years ago, he made a similar prediction. But, when the day came and went without an apocalyptic event, Brother Camping pulled an NJT (or, BP if you prefer) and blamed a faulty computer.

Isn't it great to be living in a society with no accountability? Hey, my train's delayed again! At least I know it's Amtrak's fault.

Aug 19

The case of the missing luggage

I’m not sure if it was my Russian adventure, the impending 15th anniversary of Peppercom or Doc_suitcase some late Summer malaise, but I’ve been flooded recently by obscure memories (i.e. the crazy client who insisted we become 18 percent diverse or else, the ill-fated pool party, etc.).

My dusty synapses fired up once again the other day when I spied a PR news brief announcing that a certain luggage company had retained a new PR firm. You see, Ed and I knew this company once upon a time. We knew it very well.

Nearly two decades ago, we toiled for a now defunct, integrated marketing shop called Earle Palmer Brown. EPB was the antithesis of our other employer, Brouillard (i.e. if the latter resembled the Politburo, the former was more akin to what Ed’s charming and vivacious wife, Pamela, liked to call ‘Romper Room.’). The inmates ran the asylum at EPB. And, because, Ed, Bill Southard (our boss) and I were bringing in loads of new business, we were pretty much allowed to indulge any and all excesses.

All of which brings me back to the luggage company. At the time, they were a client on the advertising side of the office. In order to create ads for the client, our ad group needed to photograph the product. So, they grabbed an unused storage room and filled it with the latest, greatest stuff (note: the luggage was also loaned to art directors and photo editors of style magazines for use as props in their shoots).

One day, when the account manager was away on vacation, someone in the PR group secured a key to the product storage room. Needless to say, it emptied out faster than a disappointed group of Mets fans leaving CitiField. Everyone grabbed one, two or more items of their liking. It was positively Bacchanalian in its excess.

Now, fast forward to the following week when the vacationing account guy returned, unlocked the product loan door and went totally ballistic. He sent an agency-wide note letting everyone know about the theft, suggesting he knew exactly who had taken it (our rollicking PR group had built quite an image and reputation by then) and declared that no questions would be asked if the merchandise was promptly returned. Sad to say, it wasn’t. The account guy complained to senior management, who promptly told him to back off. He did a little dance with the client and told them uncooperative art directors and photo editors had refused to return the product loans. Amazingly, the room was quickly restocked and the office returned to its normal state of complete bedlam.

In retrospect, the case of the missing luggage is an interesting morality tale. It spotlights the reality that far too many management teams ‘overlook’ inappropriate behavior from solid performers. Just look at Wall Street or Enron or BP. Moral and ethical behavior routinely takes a back seat to profits (which is why we’re seeing such a plethora of crises). At EPB, the PR group were the high rollers, so no one was going to mess with us about a few missing garment bags.

I’d like to think that Ed and I took the best and worst of what we experienced at EPB and Brouillard, and created a happy medium at Peppercom. It also helps that we haven’t represented luggage manufacturers and been tempted to ‘borrow’ a sleek, black briefcase or two.

We’re older and wiser now (even if Ed hasn’t aged particularly well). And, I’d like to think we’d crack down hard and fast on any behavior remotely resembling the Romper Room days of EPB- which should be good news for any luggage manufacturers out there in search of PR agency support. Your bags are safe with us.

Jul 06

There are morons. Then there are cigarette smokers.

Thomas Jefferson’s words notwithstanding, all men (and women) are not created equal. Some
No-smoking-ad are gifted athletes. Others are Nobel Prize winners. Most, though, while away their lives staring vacantly at reality TV shows. I’d place cigarette smokers in the latter group. Can there be a more clueless and moronic class of human beings than cigarette smokers? Not only are they knowingly destroying their health, they’re paying huge amounts of money to do so.

I’d leave smokers to their inevitable plight if it weren’t for a new survey I happened across in a recent Daily Dog. It shows that one-third of smokers surveyed by GlaxoSmithKline misunderstand the health impact of ‘light’ or ‘mild’ cigarettes. Almost half (44 percent) say they typically smoke light or ultra light cigarettes, with one-quarter of these nincompoops saying they do so because they mistakenly believe light cigarettes are less harmful and easier to quit than regular cigarettes. Oh baby. And, I thought that two-year-old, chain-smoking Indonesian kid was clueless. He doesn’t hold a candle (or, lighted match for that matter) to American smokers.

The GSK survey was timed to coincide with the government’s intention to ban such words as light, low and mild on all cigarette packaging. Well, there’s a few more million dollars down the tube. The warning won’t matter. Smokers are too dumb to get it.

I wonder if the same morons who believe the words mild or light indicate a less toxic cigarette would accept similar adjectives if placed in front of other known killers. To wit:

1.)    Al Qaeda Light (“Honey, I’ve just been recruited by a real sweetheart of a guy named Osama. Even smokes light cigarettes.”)
2.)    A new, mild 9mm from Glock (“They say they’re safer, babe. They use softer, lighter bullets!”)
3.)    Low tar BP oil (“Surf’s up, hon. Let’s do some snorkeling in Gulfport!”)
4.)    Iran Light (“So what if they start building nuclear weapons? They’ll be nuke lights.”)
5.)    Wall Street Light (“Those AIG guys are 100 percent honest. They earned every nickel. So what if it was our nickel?”)

Maybe if we just referred to the Great Recession as ‘light’ smokers would happily puff away believing their life savings haven’t gone up in smoke? Might smokers also dismiss the Catholic Church hullabaloo as much ado about nothing if the Vatican started positioning the pedophilia cases as ‘mild’?

According to the same survey, smokers also think cigarettes are safer if they’re contained in light colored packaging! Maybe the Taliban should change from black-hooded robes to teal instead? I’d have to believe the Bloods and Crips could start recruiting smokers to their ranks if they began marketing a kinder, gentler line of gang clothing. Perhaps mocha and lime? And, if those Montclair-based Russian spies were really diabolical, they would have sought out American smokers within the intelligence community, donned light-colored clothing and asked for some mild intelligence and light secrets.

I ask you: is there anyone dumber than a smoker?

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.