Mar 30

It’s OK to be sorry…

Legislators in British Columbia proposed a law on Tuesday that would allow companies, government officials and individuals to apologize without making it an admission of liability. So if the law passes, people who make mistakes (you probably know a few) can apologize without fear that it will automatically be used against them as an admission of guilt.

That’s not to say that Canadian people or companies or government entities who commit wrongdoings out of negligence or malevolence won’t be held accountable. But for them and especially for those who genuinely just mess up or even cause danger or difficulty for others through no fault of their own, such a law would make it possible for them to do the right thing.

And doing the right thing makes all the difference to an organization’s reputation. While many organizations and executives who do admit fault and apologize for their transgressions are able to "move on," those who don’t tend to not only prolong, but exacerbate the problem. One needs only to think about Watergate and President Nixon’s inability to apologize for what he himself called a second-rate burglary to remember how important the words, "I’m sorry" can be.

Think about the times you’ve been mad at a spouse or friend, or someone in the public eye for their actions. But when they apologize, the anger pretty much passes. It’s ridiculously simple really. So why shouldn’t we allow it here for our companies, public figures and government? Truth be told, I can’t imagine our legislature or Administration contemplating such a law. Most of them consider themselves infallible, so an apology law would probably seem extraneous to them. Besides, the trial attorney lobby would go into a frenzy.

Still, I applaud the BC legislature for its practicality and common sense, and truly hope that the legislation passes. Maybe some of our nearby states will take notice and consider similar laws. Our government, public figures and corporations — along with the rest of us — can only benefit.

Hat tip to Ann Barlow for sharing this.

Mar 30

Attention Wal-Mart bashers….PR is playing an increasingly important role in managing the beleaguered retailer’s image and reputation

A New York Times article today reports that Wal-Mart is looking to hire two senior PR executives ASAP. One would hold the title of director of media relations and be responsible for overseeing crisis communications. The second gig is described as a "senior director of campaign management" who will be responsible for directing Wal-Mart’s communications staff and the "war room" from which it monitors and responds to the many, negative attacks leveled at the company.

The two new hires will also be tasked with keeping tabs on "opposition research" and "relations with bloggers," many of whom beat the living crap out of Wal-Mart on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Wal-Mart’s investment in a sophisticated public relations capability is emblematic of the rise in respect and responsibility our field is experiencing. You don’t see the giant retailer pouring more and more moola into print advertisements or broadcast commercials that consumers are increasingly tuning out or dismissing outright. Instead, the organization is attempting to harness the power and effectiveness of public relations to create direct, honest one-on-one conversations with friend and foe alike, leveraging new and emerging technologies in the process.

I’m no fan of Wal-Mart or its practices, but I salute their recognition of the growing importance of PR in shaping, maintaining and defending an organization’s image, credibility and reputation.

Hat tip to Ed Moed for suggesting this.

Mar 29

The baddest cat on the planet needs a re-positioning campaign

A Connecticut cat is under ‘house arrest’ for biting six different people in the neighborhood, according to published reports.

Louie the cat, perhaps acting out his favorite Hip-Hop songs, has been a positive terror in his ‘hood as he leaps, lunges and latches onto the nearest human, biting or scratching away precious calf muscle, tendons, and god knows what else.

Assuming the cat wants to continue living, I suggest his owners immediately implement a crisis re-positioning campaign.

Having counseled many mean-spirited humans seeking to soften their tough guy images, I’d suggest the following:

1.) Rename Louie. Call him Fluffy, Cuddles or, maybe, even Honey Bun. If he does continue his pit bull impersonation, victims would be too embarrassed to admit they’d been bitten by Cuddles the cat.

2.) Embark on a therapy and re-training program to change his Mike Tyson-like deportment and issue "progress reports" along the way. This will make everyone glad to see the cat has admitted fault and is making amends. As anyone in my business will tell you, Crisis Communications 101 calls for admitting fault and putting corrective steps in place to make sure whatever happened never happens again.

3.) Go on the speaking circuit as an anti-violence advocate and educator. The media would take to this strategy like a kitty does to catnip. They’d eat it up, especially Oprah. Just imagine Cuddles the cat telling all those fawning women in Oprah’s studio audience about how he overcame his hostile and aggressive tendencies and today schools other felines about their anger management issues.

4.) The little guy should also think about penning an autobiography. How about this for a working title: "My bite is worse then my mew"

There are probably scores of other strategies the cat and his handlers could implement to re-position the vicious little bastard. Assuming he can reform his horrific habits and, assuming his owners decide they don’t want him anymore, we’d certainly welcome him in our office. I’m sure he’d make quick work of our mice problem.

Mar 27

Hey, Interpublic Group, could you fire me as well?

Interpublic Group, the beleaguered holding company, announced last Friday that they fired their CFO, Nicholas S. Cyprus, after only two years of service. While they wouldn’t say why they canned Cyprus, they were forced to disclose his severance package. Wow, talk about sweet. Check this out: he gets more than $1.6mm in salary, incentives and allowances, will be vested to receive 110,508 common and restricted shares of Interpublic stock, and options to purchase an additional 76,109 common shares. He’ll also receive up to $35,000 in outplacement and legal fees.

Phew! Where do I send my resume? If this is how Interpublic Group rewards failure, what must they do with the winners? Private villas on the Mediterranean? Fractional jet ownerships? A yacht or two?

More to the point, though, this sort of embarrassingly-high severance package will do nothing to assuage Wall Street that these guys have turned the corner and are making fiscally smart decisions. Some organizations seem hardwired to repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. Sadly, Interpublic seems to be a classic example of the genre.

Mar 27

“Mi casa es su casa” doesn’t work in the blogosphere

So a top Washington Post blogger by the name of Ben Domenech has crashed and burned. He’s been banished by the blogosphere for one of the most egregious transgressions possible — he plagiarized articles and blogs from other sources.

This is a real shocker, considering that the 24-year-old Domenech was one of the shining lights of the young Republican movement. He blogged for something called Red America, an attempt by the Washington Post to provide Conservative content for readers and browsers on Sadly, though, Domenech struggled for original thoughts, found himself compelled to rip off ideas from other authors and was immediately set upon by the blogosphere. He’s now looking for a job.

Bogus content is a big deal to the blogging world. In our survey of some 200 corporate and agency types, we found that "ghostwritten blogs for executives" was seen as one of the major weaknesses of corporate blogs.

I try to be careful about this with RepMan. While I encourage others to submit ideas for blogs and will have them occasionally draft articles for me, 99 percent of the RepMan content comes from my unique, if somewhat warped, view of the world. In fact, I recently had to reject a well-written attack on the "new AT&T" by Peppercom’s very own Ann Barlow because it provided her perspective, not mine. So, sadly, poor Ann saw her post end up on the cutting-room floor.

Fresh, original content is what draws people to blogs. Hopefully, Domenech has learned his lesson and will no longer poach other people’s ideas and re-circulate them as his own.

I couldn’t imagine ripping off someone else’s thoughts since I really enjoy volunteering my own. I would think most people do — and no one more so than political types. If Domenech found it that difficult to express his own point of view in hopes of persuading other people to follow, he might be better off designing actuarial tables or filling in tax returns. Of course, those jobs require honesty and integrity, so he’s still got some thinking ahead of him.

Hat tip to Ed Moed for sending me the Domenech story.

Mar 24

The College Board deserves an F

For the third time in two weeks, the College Board has re-stated the unbelievably high number of mistakes it made in grading SAT test scores. During this time, the Board has issued false or incorrect information, confused anyone and everyone trying to make sense of what happened, and did huge damage to their credibility in the process.

As the parent of a high school senior, I can tell you the SAT scores are critically important. In fact, it’s not an exageration to say that our kid’s futures are, in part, influenced by the scores when a single point higher or lower could be the difference between an applicant’s being accepted or rejected.

So, when you read that some 4,400 test results were either reported as too high or too low, it makes you cringe. It also makes you start to wonder whether this is just the tip of the iceberg with the College Board mistakes. Are these just the latest mistakes? Or, are they the only ones to have seen the light of day? Has this been going on for years? Have incorrect scores hindered some kids and helped others? It boggles the mind.

But, what really boggles the mind is the College Board’s matter-of-fact handling of the crisis and its haughty decision not to make any refunds or adjust the costs downward for the next round of tests. This inability to acknowledge fault is a sad, but pervasive, fact of life in today’s society and can be found everywhere, including 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, speaking on behalf of all the parents and kids who depend on the College Board for accuracy, I’d like to pass along the Board’s final grades for the marking period:

Quality: F; Accuracy: F; Honesty: F; Humility: F-

Mar 22

When has an athlete crossed the line?

I happened to catch an ESPN segment this morning featuring Indy Car sex kitten, Danica Patrick. Wow! The accomplished driver seems to have set her sights on becoming her "sport’s" answer to Anna Kournikova. She’s done fashion spreads, pin-up calendars and all sorts of other promotional Danica events attired in very revealing togs. In doing so, Patrick has become a crossover star and has the potential to rise to genuine pop icon status.

But what are the image and reputation implications of her marketing machinations? What must her fellow "good old boy" drivers think of Ms. Patrick’s tabloid spreads? Does it demean or cheapen their efforts? Or, does the heightened awareness she generates benefit one and all? The Indy Car circuit has to love Danica since she obviously appeals to a totally different demographic (she certainly caught my attention).

But, what message is she sending to young girls? Is Patrick, like Kournikova before her, saying that it’s ok to cash in on one’s looks? Is Danica saying we should "….make all you can while you can?"

Today’s athletes rebel at any suggestion that they are role models for our nation’s youth. For the most part, athletes believe they should do what pleases and rewards them, and to hell with everyone else. Obviously, there are exceptions. But, the exceptions are becoming increasingly rare.

It’s a sad state of affairs. And, it only seems to be getting worse.

Mar 20

Don’t Huff, just apologize

If you were tuned into the blogosphere and mainstream media last week, it was impossible to miss the "he said, she said" dispute going on between Arianna Huffington and George Clooney.

On March 12th, a post from George Clooney titled "I am a liberal. There, I said it" appeared as an op-ed on Huffington’s widely read "Huffington Post" blog.

After Clooney’s post generated significant media attention, along with a mix of positive and Gclooney_1 negative reactions within the blogosphere, he quickly responded saying that he did not write the piece. It was then determined that Huffington had actually compiled Clooney’s various political statements (culled from previous media interviews) and re-worked them into a post that appeared to be submitted by Clooney himself. It’s now clear that Clooney’s incompetent publicist played a big role in this miscommunication by approving a draft of the post without his blessing.

Regardless of the publicist’s bone-headed move, it’s the Huffington Post that beared the brunt of criticism. And rightfully so. The Huffington Post, and other top-tier blogs, have grown huge audiences because they pride themselves on offering honest, unfiltered opinions that encourage reader participation. Transparency is key in the blogosphere (and in life for that matter). Attempting to fabricate posts (ghostwriting articles, not citing sources, etc.) will only hurt you in the long run.

Fortunately, Huffington was smart enough to realize this and finally issued an apology and promise to her readers, but not before speaking out and initially putting the blame on Clooney’s camp.

So, let this be a lesson to anyone who is thinking about launching a blog. Always remain 100% transparent, write your own content, and give credit where it’s due. Attempting to deceive your readers will not only alienate them, it will damage your reputation in an instant.

Mar 20

A plan to make the N.I.T. Relevant

If I had to guess, I’d say that 99 and 44/100ths percent of Americans have no clue what the NIT is or that it’s in full swing at the moment. For the uninformed, the NIT is college basketball’s "other" tournament and is comprised of the teams not good enough to reach the NCAA’s "Big Dance."

Aside from the schools who participate in this non-event, no one, and I mean no one, cares about the National Invitation Tournament. In fact, the NIT should stand for the "Not Important Nit_1 Tournament." I honestly don’t understand how or why it still survives.

So, here’s a plan to re-create and re-position the NIT. Let’s start by focusing on the "I" in NIT, and switch its meaning from "invitation" to "innovation." My plan would call for inviting 64 college "teams" to descend on New York’s Madison Square Garden for a weekend’s worth of late March innovation. The teams could be as small as three or as large as 20. It wouldn’t matter. Teams would be "bracketed" just as they are in the NCAA (and, I’d open this up to every college and university in the land. Just submit a 500-word essay on why your school is innovative and our judges will select the best entries. Imagine Brookdale Community College taking on UNC in the opening round!).

As for the competition itself, I’d borrow a page from the Apollo 13 movie (and many internal Peppercom brainstorms), and challenge each team to come to the Garden’s center court and, in the space of 10 minutes, create something "innovative" (and workable) from an assemblage of everyday items (i.e. a rake, a needle, rope, an old tire, etc.). A panel of judges (and the fans in attendance) would evaluate each team’s performance in three key areas: poise, creativity and practicality.

As the competition unfolds, the original field of 64 would be whittled down to a Sweet 16 by the end of the first day.

On Day Two of my NIT, the drama would mount as the finalists are given fewer items and less time to create an innovative solution with the odds and ends. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we’d have the two finalists and, eventually, the crowning of America’s "most innovative college."

Just think of the sponsorship opportunities. Just think of the reality program that could be built around the tourney. Just think of the human interest stories. And, at a time when everyone in America is lamenting our kids’ non-interest in math, science and technology, just imagine the "boost" such an event would give to our country’s interest in, and support of, innovation.

In my mind, the "new NIT" would make for a really cool and different type of "March Madness."

Mar 20


Now that advertising agencies, PR firms and marketing firms have finally noticed that the Hispanic market is the fastest growing consumer market in the United States, they are more aggressively targeting this population. However, sometimes agencies are moving too fast and firing before they aim; think of it as a metaphorical Dick Cheney incident.

Case in point: the Volkswagen debacle which was recently featured in Wall Street Journal. Volkswagen’s ad agency, CreativeOndemanD, came up with the slogan "Turbo-Cojones" for VW’s new GTI 2006 model that was placed on billboards in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. Although Turbo_1 Americans use "cojones" colloquially to mean "gutsy," the literal translation from Spanish to English is "testicles." And, according to Luis Perez Tolon, an instructor at Miami-Dade College who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, "In English, Turbo-Balls might not sound so offensive. But in the Spanish-speaking community, it will always have a vulgar connotation."

How did VW react: they took down the billboards.

How can a Miami-based agency not be in tune with what translations resonate well and which do not work at all with the Hispanic population? How can any ad agency, PR firm or marketing firm, for that matter, which says it wants to target the Hispanic market not do their homework? And, it’s not just the Hispanic market. According to the article, a few Asian countries banned Australia’s new tourist slogan "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?"

Agencies and corporations must both be accountable and conduct the appropriate due diligence before trying to influence a specific market or culture. By not doing so, they are demonstrating to other populations just how ignorant they are and how much they do not care about the population’s culture. Why, then, should the targeted population care?

One misstep could result in months or years of trying to earn back the trust of the now alienated population.

Corporations are so concerned today about how to manage their reputations in the digital world of blogs and message boards. They need to be equally concerned about their reputation when focusing on traditional advertising, PR and marketing.

In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss….it’s "bloody hell" for the corporation, not to mention the agency.