Aug 28

Might This Be the Next Chapter in “The New Adventures of Old Christine?”

I admire initiative. And, I have a special love for entrepreneurs, what with Peppercom and all. So, when I received this unsolicited e-mail pitch from "Christine," I was initially impressed:

Attention Entrepreneurs & Executives,

Do you have a unique business or product that you want everyone to know about TODAY?

Get a $1 million dollar publicity campaign with expert publicists working for you for as little as a couple of dollars per day.

How much is an appearance on the "Good Morning America" TV show worth to you?

Join the many happy product innovators that received this offer in the past and can claim great exposure and unheard of income.

Note:  A new media campaigns launch on September 1st.

There is a selection process, so CALL ME TODAY and watch your sales SOAR Sky High.

I look forward to talking with you today,

For more details, call Christine at xxx-xxx-xxxx or send her an email at

Testimonials available upon request.

Then, I noticed the wording: "Get a $1 million publicity campaign with expert publicists working for you for as little as a few dollars a day." Hmmm. Well, okay, since this pitch is aimed at "entrepreneurs," I can certainly understand the price-cutting angle. We still receive lots of calls from small start-ups who would love to work with us, but have only a fraction of what we’d need to implement a program. So, yes Christine, those one and two-person start-ups should be your targets.

But, to suggest that "executives" of substantial companies would receive the equivalent of a $1 million publicity campaign by retaining your services is disingenuous at best.

I don’t know exactly what you do, but I’m guessing you have a Rolodex of media to whom you’d pitch the entrepreneurs’ products and services. Fine. That makes sense. But, to suggest that your smiling-and-dialing is in any way comparable to a sophisticated, million dollar public relations program is simply wrong.

Smiling-and-dialing is purely tactical and not the appropriate strategy for most, if not all, Fortune 1000 companies. Corporate executives like the ones we’re working with are struggling to understand the nuances and subtleties of the new media landscape. Smiling-and-dialing publicity pitches are just one small part of a much larger and more sophisticated outreach.
So, I wish you and your fellow expert publicists well, Christine. But, I suggest you edit
your blast e-mails. First, limit the distribution solely to entrepreneurs with limited budgets. Second, don’t suggest that your one-dimensional efforts are in any way comparable to a rigorous, multi-faceted PR program. That’s like saying The New Adventures of Old Christine is just as good as Seinfeld.

Aug 27

The Agony of Defeat

Remember "ABC’s Wide World of Sports?" The show ran for decades and had a memorable opening sequence of sports clips punctuated by Jim McKay’s signature line: "The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat." The latter was always accompanied by the sight of a ski jumper taking a horrific fall and tumbling head over heels into a snow bank far down the mountain.

The New York Mets are that skier. They are a brutal team that, no matter how much temporary comfort they provide courtesy of a modest winning streak or two, will somehow find a way to deliver the agony of defeat.

Last night’s game was vintage Mets. They were in Philadelphia to battle their archrival Phillies for sole possession of first place. As is their wont, the Mets broke on top for a sizable, early lead. In fact, they led 7-0 after four innings.Beltranspring2ug1

But, I knew they’d lose. In fact, I predicted it to my son, Chris, as soon as the Phillies scored their first run. And, sure enough, the New York Metropolitan Baseball Team ended up losing in 13 innings and surrendering first place. No surprise. It was pre-ordained.

Certain people and certain organizations exude defeat. I sometimes see defeat in the eyes of job-seekers, competitors or acquaintances. Other times, you can see it in the eyes of passersby on the street.

The Mets exude defeat. And, with two rare exceptions, they’ve always delivered. What must it be like to be haunted like the Mets’ players most certainly are? Despite what they may say publicly, all 40 men know that somehow, some way, when the chips are down, the club will cave. Talk about the agony of defeat.

Oh well, football season is about to start. And with it will come new opportunities to suffer with my other passion, the New York Jets. Like their baseball siblings, the Jets also find creative ways to experience the agony of defeat.

I can’t speak for other Mets/Jets fans, but this particular one is SO ready for the thrill of victory that I can taste it. Unfortunately, though, both my teams continue to tumble headfirst down that ski slope of life.

Aug 26

With a Name Like Cash, You’d Think the Quest Board Would Have Been More Vigilant

Quest CEO Jerry Cash has been removed from his position after diverting some $10 million of company funds into a personal account.

I don’t know Mr. Cash’s track record, but this latest scandal is dripping with irony. For example, do you think any Quest board members worried that, in hiring a guy with such a surname, Cash might play loose and fast with their organization’s funds? Are there one or two directors who now find themselves shaking their heads and sighing, "Damn, why didn’t we pick that guy named Francis Fiscally Responsible when we had the chance? Or, what about Louise Long-term Growth? She was a viable candidate."Embezzlement

To their credit, the Quest board acted quickly to ditch the Cash problem. In fact, one might say they cashed out. Sadly for Mr. Cash though, his attempts at cashing in were uncovered. And, the only cash stashing on this former chief executive’s horizon will probably involve Cash’s checking into a minimum security prison.

Let’s hope the Quest board does a better job of vetting surnames in their next search. "So, Mr. Sarbanes, I see you’ve had some legislation named after you? Tell us more."

Aug 25

Word Police Announce Nationwide Search for the Verb “Said”

The nation’s various vocabulary, word and diction agencies announced a nationwide search today for the verb "said."

A first-of-its-kind collaboration, the massive online and offline hunt was prompted by what one wordsmith called a "total absence of a once-proud verb."Police_search_small

"It amazes me," said Dexter Poindexter, president of the American Word Protection Association (AWPA). "We’re literally witnessing a verbal ethnic cleansing aimed at what, until recently, had been a mainstay of the English language."

As proof, Poindexter and other fans of the English language, pointed to the near universal use of such substitute words as "like" and "goes," especially by the so-called Millenials.

Poindexter sighed and added, "All one hears today are young people using such phrases as:

  • ‘…And I’m like….’
  • ‘….And, then he goes….’
  • ‘….So, they’re like……’"

According to the AWPA announcement, the verb "said" was last seen around the turn of the 21st century. He appeared to be in good shape at the time and, say officials, hadn’t expressed any concern about his declining use in printed or oral language.

"I distinctly remember Mr. Said being very happy, and really looking forward to observing the turn-of-the-century celebrations with his fellow verbs. Then, poof, he vanishes off the face of the earth," noted Martha Malaprop, executive director of Worldwide Words Institute (WWI).

"We don’t know if this is a conspiracy or some sort of heinous, new type of global terrorism," said Poindexter. "All we know is that we want ‘said’ back and we want him back now. ‘Nuff said?"

Anyone with information is urged to contact the AWPA or WWI websites (both of which have added special hyperlinks and microsites).

Aug 21

It May Not Be The Sopranos, But Mad Men is Catching on Fast

I can’t speak for others, but the AMC series Mad Men is white hot in PR and marketing circles.

In fact, I find myself discussing the breakaway "ad agency in the 60s" series in virtually every client or new business meeting I attend.250pxmadmenlogo

Whether it’s Sterling Cooper’s ill-fated decision to fire a small, existing airline account to pitch a larger one (Mohawk Airlines was grounded in lieu of American Airlines) or the unconscionable amount of smoking, drinking and carousing that permeates the agency’s walls, someone almost always brings up a Mad Men mention. It’s gotten to the point where not being Mad Men conversant has become a career impediment. 

True. Don Draper is no Tony Soprano. And January Jones, who plays his long-suffering wife, is no Carm, but Mad Men has all the earmarks of a huge, mainstream hit. Jon Hamm, who plays Draper, has already won an Emmy and, as we at Peppercom have found out, now charges $100,000 for a single appearance. So, clearly the series is catching on.

I’m not sure why Mad Men has become the next Sopranos, but it has. Forget about Weeds, Entourage, Generation Kill or any other wannabe. Mad Men is the real deal.

Aug 19

You’d Think She’d Know Better

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and her entourage breezed into the seafood restaurant in which I was dining last night. As one might expect, there were quite a few knowing glances and a general cessation of the usual mumbles and harrumphs.

The waiter scurried up to greet Ms. Whitman. He bowed and sighed, "So nice to have you with us again, Governor Whitman."Whitman_christinetodd

The Whitman party of four was seated just behind me. How cool. But, as it turned out, I could have been sitting across the room and still heard some of her vitriolic comments.

You see, the erstwhile governor and cabinet member was not in a festive mood. I’m not sure what had set her off, but the invectives were flying faster than a souped-up NASCAR racer at Talladega.

Most of Ms. Whitman’s louder lamentations seemed aimed at the current administration. She bandied about words and phrases like "patsy" and "sacrificial lamb" to describe herself and her experiences. She also bemoaned the fact that no one from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had ever bothered to alert her in advance before "41" visited the Garden State.

Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned. And, we diners heard quite a few choice morsels from this scorned politico.

Ms. Whitman may be totally justified in her complaints. But, in this era of cell phone videos and Youtube postings, one would have thought the ex-governor would have been more circumspect. A less gentile and more enterprising Repman, for example, just might have gone for a scoop and posted the Michael Richards-like performance for all the world to see.

But, then, I’m not into the whole National Enquirer, kiss-and-tell type exposes. I thought a cautionary tale like this might be of more benefit to Governor Whitman, her handlers and anyone in the public eye who gives a lobster’s tail about image and reputation.

Aug 15

When the Message Sent isn’t the Message Received

I was cruising down the Jersey Turnpike this morning when I spied a billboard for Rutgers University. It read, "Jersey roots. Global reach."

I did a quick double take. Global reach? Rutgers?

The Rutgers billboard is a classic example of inside-out branding. Rutgers may think it has global reach. It may have a significantly diverse student body. It may have any number of multinational faculty. And, for all I know, it may have a few "partner" campuses on other continents. But, common sense rejects Rutgers’ claim of being global. Heck, I don’t even think of Rutgers as being much more than a decent Jersey school. Rutgers

And, if the message recipient (moi) rejects the marketer’s claim as being bogus, the marketer has lost any chance of engaging in additional dialogue.

Rutgers needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. While I admire their goal, I’m left shaking my head at their logic. Jersey roots, yes. But, global reach? Nope. No way. Sorry. Rejected. 

While the school’s football program may have put them on the radar screen in, say, Bangor, I seriously doubt the same holds true for Berlin, Beijing or Budapest.

Aug 14

Exactly When did Supertramp, The Who and Led Zep Become Muzak?

As I was munching on a bland chicken sandwich at O’Hare, it suddenly struck me that the airport music system was playing "Baba O’Reilly" in its entirety. The Who ditty was quickly followed by Supertramp’s "Take the Long Way Home" and then Led Zeppelin’s "Whole Lotta Love."Led_zeppelin_on_stage_1977

It occurred to me that what was once cutting-edge and anti-establishment has become the exact opposite. In fact, the music the "older generation" once despised is now being played for every generation in every public setting.

I remember that, when Muzak first burst on the scene, it was chock full of lamentable, non-confrontational stuff from the likes of Tony Orlando & Dawn, Barry Manilow and John Denver. One would have never, ever heard a Beatles or Stones song in an elevator or a dentist’s office.

Now, though, it’s Procol Harum, Deep Purple and The Police. So exactly when did what used to be called hard rock morph into easy listening for the masses? It’s a rhetorical question, since I’m guessing some Baby Boom decision-makers just decided one day to switch from Bobby Darin to Bruce Springsteen.

Looking forward, though, does that mean Miley Cyrus and Death Cab for Cutie will be bombarding my septuagenarian eardrums in an elevator decades from now? That’s another rhetorical question.

Either way, listening to Foreigner’s "Urgent" sure beats the Carpenters’ "We’ve Only Just Begun" any day of the week.

Aug 13

Even When it’s Sunny, it’s Gray in Gary

I’m doing my Jack Kerouac impersonation this week as I crisscross the Rust Belt of America to visit a client. In doing so, I’ve had to zoom past Gary and Hammond, Indiana, respectively.

I know that each was once a Mecca of steel and heavy manufacturing. But, today, each seems littered with empty, rundown buildings sprinkled in between a few factories spewing out god knows what toxins. Dante’s Inferno comes to mind.Gary_steel_works

The bleak landscape got me thinking: how does a Gary or Hammond attract new, service-sector businesses? Do they offer a plethora of tax incentives so appealing that a technology company would actually consider relocating next to a row of burnt-out shells? Are the advertising campaigns all print? I’d think any photos would be a non-starter.

I may be unaware of some major revitalization stories that are helping each city rebuild. But, I doubt it. Even on Gary’s sunniest days, it’s dark and gloomy. And, I can’t see any package of incentives or publicity programs changing that view anytime soon.

Aug 12

It Was Only a Matter of Time

It was only a matter of time before the mindless pablum being produced by Hollywood movie moguls went so far over the line that it engendered a mass response.

The offending movie in question is "Tropic Thunder," a clearly inane, low-end vehicle from Dreamworks directed by, and starring, Ben Stiller (who else?). In the movie, Stiller’s character, called Simple Jack, is repeatedly called a retard.  Americans with intellectual disabilities don’t care for Stiller’s pranks and are organizing a nationwide protest against "Tropic Thunder." Tropic_thunder

Dreamworks, the movie’s producer, says the Stiller character was created to poke fun at the extraordinary lengths some actors will go to to land a role. Yeah, sure. The reality is obvious: intellectually-challenged people are yet another easy laugh target. And, if there’s anything consistent about today’s "funny" movies, it’s that they go for the easy laughs at the expense of the physically and mentally challenged.

Stiller’s brand of comedy (and, by the way, feel free to insert Will Ferrell or scores of other leading "comedic" actors) plays to the lowest common denominator. He’s been offending Americans of all types, sizes and shapes for years now. So, it’s refreshing to see someone stand up in the name of common sense and decency.

There’s a fine line between humor and insult, and Stiller’s brand of comedy has been overstepping the boundaries for years. The only way he and his ilk will ever stop is if it impacts their wallets.

So, here’s hoping Americans with intellectual disabilities, as well as their families and friends avoid "Tropic Thunder" in droves. Maybe, it will force the writers, producers and directors to roll up their sleeves and do something unique: create something that’s funny rather than offensive.