Jan 15

The Root of All Evil

The old aphorism notwithstanding, money is not the root of all evil. In my mind, it's organized religion.

Just take a look around us: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the border tensions between India and Pakistan, the Israeli invasion of Gaza. It goes on and on. One could argue these conflicts are also about money, land and power. And, they'd be right. But, at its core, the root cause of the world's problems is organized religion.

Evangelical Christians think it's their way or the highway. Ditto for fundamental Islamic militants, Orthodox Jews, Scientologists, Mormons, etc. You name the religious group and they'll tell you not only why their way is the only way, they'll often justify why their far right wing contingents are justified in undermining, if not destroying, anyone who disagrees.

Ziggy Marley explains it very well in "In the Name of God." So, too, do Crosby, StillsMaher
and Nash in "Cathedral." But, it was Bill Maher that got me thinking about religion with his excellent documentary, "Religiulous". If you haven't seen it, do so. In fact, I'd suggest it's worth seeing if you're an avowed atheist or proselytizing protestant. It raises questions we all need to ponder. Especially now.

I often wonder how the leaders of these radical religious fundamentalist groups rationalize their killing in the name of God, Allah or whomever. Whatever became of live and let live?

Jan 14

The Devil and Miss Jones

I thought this headline might catch your attention. No, I'm not speaking of the Georgina Spelvin porn classic, "The Devil in Ms Jones." Instead, I'm referring to a 1941 screen gem starring Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur and Robert Cummings that provides some outstanding image and reputation lessons for businesspeople of all types and stripes.

The plot is a variation on the old Prince and the pauper scenario in which aDevil_and_miss_jones
privileged executive goes undercover to live among the plebeians and see how the other half lives. In "Devil," the world's richest man (Coburn) follows suit. He decides to become an hourly employee at Neeley's, one of the many department stores that he owns (and one that has been plagued by poor morale and productivity). What he discovers is a legion of smart, hard-working hourly employees, a belligerent middle management level and an out-of-touch executive group.

"Devil" wears surprisingly well for having been filmed just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It suffers from a needless love story but, in the end, it reinforces the need for executives in every business to get closer to their customers: whether those "customers" are employees or sales prospects. As some of you know, Ed and I did this at Peppercom a few years ago. We swapped jobs with junior account executives for a day and saw, first-hand, what they experienced. Needless to say, we instituted quite a few changes as a result.

It's interesting how timely and relevant Devil is to 2009. As organizations everywhere try to figure out new and different strategies for survival and success, they need to remember the basics: namely, that the success of any organization is dependent upon the morale and productivity of its workforce. And, the single best way to know for sure what "they" think and feel is to become one of them for a day or two. Trust me, it'll be one of the single best business investments you could possibly make.

Jan 13

Could Your Data Be Any Less Appealing, NetProspex?

Guest post by Jimmy Moock

First let it be known that I’m not a user of NetProspex nor have I ever requested to be added to its lists.  But, since it is the start of the New Year and I am as willing as anyone to put forth a good effort in seeking (and retaining) business, I did decide to click on the email to learn of the “new opportunities” CEO Gary Halliwell wanted to introduce to me.

As background, I am a public relations exec and I know far too well the need for the right contacts is paramount.  However, the contacts only matter if the story ideas and the sources you’re merchandising are a good fit for the reporter’s needs. 

Suffice it to say, I had a hearty chuckle when I read that one new executive at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, 66 executives at IndyMac Bank Corp. and 330 Executives at AIG are all new members of this "people in business exchange network."  Wow! Where do I sign up? 

Gary, forgive me, but I think that people like Bernie and execs from IndyMac and AIG are the last contacts I need in 2009 (unless I was a class action lawyer – then I might need to get in touch with these baboons).   And, I’m having a hard time figuring out what benefit you derive from their inclusion in your sales materials.  Furthermore, just two paragraphs into the note promoting your business, you mentioned five competitors in the industry – Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers and LinkedIn among others.  Didn’t someone along the way teach you that speaking about the competition should be avoided wherever and whenever possible?          

I can’t believe no one took the time to consider how this letter might affect NetProspex’s reputation and position in the industry.  Chances are a rank-and-file employee or some “intelligent” program found my name and contact information and thus began my inclusion on it’s out bound materials when the concern is fishing for business.  I’m hoping that is the same reason why these executives were in the letter, too.

Regardless, NetProspex’s bait is bunk.

Jan 12

This Podcast is MUST Listening for Any College Student Thinking of a Career in Public Relations

OK, I’m prejudiced, but I think the attached podcast prepared by Peppercom’s most recent cast of college interns is outstanding. Sure, it suffers from some amateurish production (but so does Repchatter). And, sure our erstwhile interns aren’t saying anything necessarily new or profound (ditto for Repchatter). But, this 20-minute discussion is incredibly insightful and helpful and, I believe, should be made mandatory listening for any college student seeking a career in PR.

You’ll hear Jackie Holmes and the other interns tell you exactly what to expect from your internship and exactly how you can best leverage your internship to gain full-time employment. ‘Nuff said?

One last point: I would have killed to have known some of these things before starting my first professional internship.


Jan 09

Why do Sports Teams Insist on Rewarding Failure

I can't think of another "industry" that rewards failure as much as sports does. The most recent, flagrant example is the Cleveland Browns hiring of erstwhile NY Jets Coach Eric Mangini and awarding him a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. What is Browns' ownership thinking? More to the point, how do I score an ounce of whatever it is they're smoking?

Mangini failed miserably in his three years with the Jets. Sure, he started off well and was called "Mangenius" for a brief, shining moment. But, last season was a disaster and this year proved that he was simply a poor manager and motivator of talent. And, yet, the guy is richly rewarded by another team. 82e35853-9321-4f78-a701-1a27e454032d.widec

Is the coaching pool so bereft of talent that abject failures like Mangini immediately land on their feet? It must be, because this pattern has been occurring as long as I've been following sports and certainly isn't limited solely to football.

What does it say about an organization's image and reputation when it hires a new top dog who just got canned for poor performance by a competitor? Could you imagine a Fortune 500 company doing something similar……."ABC, Inc., Names Jeff Skilling CEO; Failed Ex-Enron Chief to Assume New Post As Soon As Incarceration Ends." Gimme a break.

The Mangini news has to make rooters puzzled, if not angry. But, here's the stark reality: Browns fans will buy into whatever hype the team's marketing machine spits out, Mangini will coach for a few losing seasons and some other failure will replace him down the road. And so on and so forth.

Oh well, pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks' time and hope springs eternal for this particular blogger.

Jan 08

Welcome to the United Kingdom, Now Get the Hell Out!

Guest Post by Garret Hall

Immigration officials have a thankless job.  Day in and day out, they are responsible for protecting a sovereign nation's borders and in doing so, directly protect those citizens who reside in that nation.   They do this with little appreciation and fanfare, and yet, their job is vital to the well being and integrity of all countries.  I cannot begin to imagine some of the methods used by travelers throughout the major international airports in order to illegally gain access into a country.  Immigration officials must see attempts at ill conceived plans on a near daily basis and, understandably so, probably tire of them quickly.  Aside from thwarting illegal attempts, immigration officials must also deal with those passengers who are trying to enter a country legally, but are not the easiest of people to get along with.  After what could have been a ten, twelve, or fifteen hour flight, the last thing a passenger wants to deal with is an immigration official simply doing his or her job: protecting their nation’s borders from those who wish to enter for less than benevolent reasons. 

It is in this context and for this reason that I deal with immigration officials as politely as I can after being on a flight that most likely lasted no less than five or six hours.  They are simply performing a necessary service, and in my past experience, if you treat them with respect, they will do the same towards you.  There is no need to make a tedious experience even worse for either myself or the immigration officer by having either party be antagonistic.  Up until two months ago, this policy had served me well, that was until I traveled to and from the UK in October, for what I thought would be a simple flight transfer. 

My friend and I were returning on a weekend trip from Amsterdam, and upon re-entry into the UK, where I would stay for a two week period, I would fly home to Washington, DC for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Upon arrival my friend and I proceeded to customs, where my ordeal was to begin.  The immigration officer that greeted me at the customs desk was less than cordial, but it being a Sunday afternoon, he was probably worn out and simply wanted to be home with his family.  After being asked the standard questions asked by all immigration officers around the world, I was found to be a person of interest to UK Immigration for a myriad of reasons, which I will not delve into (for my own sense of justification however, I will state that none of the reasons were, as far as I am concerned legitimate enough to refuse entry).  Border460

It was at this point which every official from there on out that I dealt with treated me as if I was guilty until proven innocent.  Under UK immigration laws I had done nothing wrong: I was planning on staying in the UK for under 3 months, meaning I needed no documentation other than my passport, and I had performed no work within the UK since I had been traveling and staying there.  In every way, shape and form I had done nothing wrong as British immigration laws are written and yet I was treated as if I had been trying to enter the UK whilst being listed on a terrorism watch list.  When I asked if I could be allowed internet access so that I may provide officials with all the information they wanted from me I was promptly denied with the excuse being, “It’s not their problem that I do not carry the necessary documents on my person.”  These documents, which ranged from financial records to written letters from people I may be staying with during my stay in the UK are papers which no normal traveler has on them in any given moment.

Apparently to these officials it mattered not that I was a recent college graduate who was obviously just traveling around Europe during the one time in my life that such a trip would be possible.  And while I generally dislike the idea of playing the American “get out of jail free card,” it was rather shocking to have what most experts agree is our closest ally treat an American citizen so poorly.  After enduring a night full of condescending retorts to my responses and brush away answers such as “someone will look into that for you,” the idea of going back to Britain within the near future is quite unpalatable to me.  While I will never know firsthand what the treatment of foreign travelers is like from American immigration officers, I can only hope that upon landing into the United States travelers are met with a certain level of respect and courtesy that the five or six British immigration officials I dealt with sorely lacked.               

Jan 07

Is It the End of the Beginning?

Maybe it's just my "glass is always half full" approach to life, but I do believe I'm beginning to see a small smattering of positive economic headlines coming from the business press.

Just this weekend, for example, The New York Times heralded a bullish economic forecast from a group of, what else, economic forecasters. Naturally, the forecasters' views that President-elect Obama's stimulus package will re-charge our country's economic engine were offset by other economists who felt otherwise but, hey, the headline was upbeat.

I also spotted a very upbeat ditty about Hollywood's very solid holiday ticket sales ("Hollywood's Superheroes Save the Day"). Sure, the story was buried beneath a larger one that once again focused on the horror show that is Detroit but, hey, it was another positive headline!

I'll admit I'm hard-pressed to find a third example but maybe, just maybe, the media13107594.tracksfade
has finally had its fill of non-stop negativity. Maybe, just maybe, some editors will see an emerging trend and actually start publishing positive words and phrases in their headlines and leads. And, maybe, just maybe, we are starting to see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.

Taking a page out of Winston Churchill's speech book, we might not be near the beginning of the end of our economic woes but maybe, just maybe, we're at the end of the beginning.

Jan 06

A Gem of an Idea

Somebody sure earned his or her paycheck at Cartier this week. Today's announcement that the specially-designed Cartier ball dropped from Times Square needle on New Year's Eve will be used on top of the same building throughout 2009 is sheer genius. It's also a great example of guerilla marketing. 05-30-02-TimeSquare2001web

Not only did Cartier garner the world's attention with the New Year's Eve ball-drop gig but now, courtesy of some savvy marketing or PR type, the highly-visible ball will be used to observe Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and other notable holidays. Smart. Very smart. And, what a great way to make whatever the original cost investment was go a whole lot further.

Now, if I were counseling Cartier, I'd keep the ball rolling. I'd conduct consumer surveys tied to each holiday and ask one fundamental question: "What's your favorite way to have a 'ball' on (fill-in holiday)?" Cartier announces the findings via USA Today, CNN and the other usual suspects and, all of a sudden, becomes synonymous with having a ball (albeit a pricey one) on every notable holiday. God, how I love marketing!

Anyway, here's a virtual champagne toast to whatever whiz came up with the Cartier year-round ball idea. It's a gem.

Jan 05

Funny How an Organization’s Holiday Card Can Reinforce its Image (Or Not)

I wanted to clarify my comments about one of the holiday cards mentioned in this blog. The one from Davis & Gilbert, a law firm, was brilliant in terms of its self-deprecating humor and unusual visual. Knowing Mike Lasky as well as I do, I applauded him/Davis & Gilbert for taking an out-of-the box, counter-intuitive approach to their holiday greetings. That said, Mike is the best in the business and his firm is the best at what it does. My comments were intended to be positive and laudatory. My apologies to Mike if they were interpreted otherwise.

I feel a little like Andy Rooney right now. Like the venerable 60 Minutes personality, I'm sitting at a desk surrounded by lots of stuff. And, like the curmudgeonly Rooney, I feel inspired enough by some of the stuff to wax poetic for a moment or two.

The most interesting stuff is the mound of holiday cards staring back at me. It falls neatly into one of three categories and, interestingly enough, can either reinforce or undermine an organization's image

Let's start with the cards that reinforce the great reps of great organizations:Twitter card

– There's a cool card that contains a cool jazz CD from a Minneapolis musician courtesy of a very cool Midwestern PR firm, PSB.
– There's a very sleek card from a very sleek Midwestern firm, CLS. One has to interact with the card in order to read an original Yuletide greeting that hits just the right notes.
– Roush Fenway, which does lots of NASCAR-type sports marketing, sent a way cool card replete with photos of their winning drivers (note: this has to be a very, very good card to get an anti-NASCAR guy like me to like it).
– And, Converseon emphasizes its digital services with a really hip, really funny Twitter-themed card.

Now, let's examine the underwhelming efforts:

– I'd include almost every card from an accounting, law or insurance firm in this group. Typically, these lead with some breakthrough wording like "Season's greetings" and culminate with a signature from the accountant, lawyer or insurance agent in question. Ugh!
– Next come the "methinks thou dost protest too much" group of cards. These include all the do-gooders who tell me their firm's charitable contributions have helped some Third World country's windmill turn for an extra nanosecond in 2008. Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge believer in giving back. But, I'm not the type to pound my chest and leverage holiday greeting cards to tell the rest of the world about it. 
– Finally, there's a card from a firm that isn't known for its warm and cuddly culture containing a photo of a warm and cuddly couple. Hmmmmm.

 Then, there's my favorite category: the bizarre and unexpected. Topping my list were:

– A signed photograph from "Hizzoner" Ed Koch. Why thank you, Mr. Mayor. And, you're doing just fine in case you'd like to know.
– A totally unexpected greeting from my favorite corporate PR lawyer, Mike "Mr. Monopoly" Lasky. His law firm's card has a picture of two hands cradling a serpent with the caption: "I want you to know this about me. I am a snake." Love it, Mike. Just love it.

Looking inward, I'd like to think Peppercom's card accurately reflects our culture. Love us or hate us, we take the road less traveled (and, our cards reflect it). If you haven't seen ours and would like to, shoot me a note. Oh, and btw, "Season's greetings."