Feb 27

There’s “Oblivious” and then There’s ManRam

I never cease to be amazed by the hubris of some professional athletes. While there are exceptions, many are boorish, brooding self-centered individuals who believe there is indeed an "I" in the word "team."
Manny Ramirez (aka ManRam) is at the top of the list. This selfish egomaniac has turned down a two-year, $45 million dollar offer by the Los Angeles Dodgers and is now taking his sweet time to mull over a revised, one-year $25 million proposal from the same franchise. 

Meanwhile, our country's economy is in ruins. Jobless rates are skyrocketing and the average newspaper business section reads more like an obituary.

But, why should the country's problems bother ManRam? He's above all that and undoubtedly relishes rejecting a salary package that's probably higher than the state of Michigan's operating budget.

ManRam should be ashamed of himself. And, the Dodgers should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to negotiate with a guy who, while being a gifted hitter, is also a major liability in the clubhouse.

So, what becomes of image and reputation when more and more societal role models like ManRam are demonstrating a marked indifference to its import? It's an interesting, if rhetorical, question to ponder.

In the meantime, Rome burns while the Dodgers and ManRam fiddle.

Feb 24

This One’s for You, Mom

My mom passed away this past Saturday, February 21st. She was a few weeks shy of her 89th birthday.

To her dying day, I don’t think my mom completely understood what I did for a living. In the early days, she’d always ask: "How come the clients get their names in the paper and you don’t?” Of course, that scenario changed dramatically in recent years and seeing her pride in yet another personal, professional or agency success was a very cool thing indeed.

My mom didn’t go to college and couldn’t expound on the nuances of image or reputation. But, she based her life entirely on the health, well-being and success of her family. And, what better definition of image and reputation can one find? She was what you’d expect of all moms: kind, caring and compassionate. But, she could be tough as nails when the occasion called for it.

I have many fond memories of my mom. But, I think the one I’ll remember most occurred just recently.

Thirty years ago, I had just gotten into long distance running. I knew little about the sport and nothing about cross-training or nutrition. So, when I decided to run the Long Beach Island 18-mile "marathon,” I was woefully unprepared. I hit the wall often and early that day. The race was run along the length of Ocean Avenue in Long Beach Island and, in those days, there were few, if any, barriers separating the runners from the well wishers.

Seeing my obvious distress, my mom got my dad to drive the car right alongside me. As they did, she’d lean out the window and implore me to keep pushing. "It’s just five more miles," she’d yell. "Four more and you’re there," she’d scream. And, finally, "The finish line is just around the corner." I finished. But, it was only because of her constant, moral support. And, trust me, I was one hurting puppy afterwards.

Now, fast forward to this past October. Thirty years after running my first and only Long Beach Island Marathon, I’d entered my second one. This time, though, I was fully prepared for the physical, mental and emotional challenge.

And, guess who was there at the finish line in her portable wheelchair? My mom. Despite having suffered two broken hips, countless mini strokes and god knows how much heart and kidney damage, she was right there to root me on.

I knew she was near the end of her life. But, I cannot tell you how good it felt to sprint the final few yards of that race with her watching me. There are many things I’ll remember, but her smiling face on that crisp October afternoon is the one that meant the most to me.

Feb 20

The Ad Guys Are Coming! The Ad Guys Are Coming!

With the traditional advertising model being ripped to shreds before our eyes, holding companies and their independent siblings are scrambling to find any possible new source of business. For the most part, the big guns are rapidly retrofitting their service offerings and going digital in a big way. But, being paid $50,000 to design a web site simply doesn't replace a multimillion dollar traditional advertising campaign (or offset those massive overhead expenses). And, so they continue to forage.

Adweek's most recent issue contains a fascinating story about one advertiser's "discovery" of internal communications. Recently, PepsiCo preceded the launch of an advertising/branding campaign with "internal communications devices" themed to match the organization's new "Word Play" campaign. The internal communications  campaign featured everything from placards and hall posters to elevator decals and an all-hands rally day at which the campaign was unveiled. PepsiCo has even coined a term for unveiling an ad campaign to employees: "invertising." That's cute.

Surprisingly, industry experts quoted in the article say PepsiCo is the exception and not the norm when it comes to educating employees about new campaigns. Most advertisers apparently never brief employees before launching a new initiative. That's not surprising since advertising is all about creating external target audience awareness.

Ah, but that was then and this is now. I'll bet smart (and desperate) ad agency types will see a revenue opportunity here and start pitching internal communications as a natural strategic value-add to any new campaign. And, that's where the trouble (or fun) begins. Internal communications has always been the purview of either corporate communications or human resources. Advertisers don't 'get' the need for open and transparent employee communications and will badly butcher this if given the chance.

PepsiCo seems to have done it right, limiting its "invertising" to placards, etc. But, woe betide the organization that turns its employee communications program over to a traditional ad agency and its top-down communications model. Feel-good, rah-rah ad posters are the worst possible thing to do at the worst possible time. Note to CMOs': keep alerting your employees to future campaigns, but leave the 'real' internal communications to the professionals who know it best.

Feb 19

The Sounds of Silence

Hello, new business prospect, my old friend. I've come to talk to you again….

Ever notice how some new business prospects are readily available for lengthySandg
conversations BEFORE the pitch, but often fall off the radar screen afterwards?

These sounds of silence have become truly deafening in the aftermath of the economic meltdown. Sure, there's always been an inconsiderate prospect or two over the years. But, today, they seem legion.

Recently, for example, we pulled together a last-minute, bi-coastal pitch for an enthusiastic prospect. He'd sought us out, saying he'd heard great things about the firm. He provided lots of information in advance, made himself available for telephone briefings and was generally an all-around good guy.  

On the day of the pitch, he couldn't have been nicer or more flattering. And, the vibes were good. Very good.

And then came the silence. We sent him a really nice thank you note. Nada. Then, thinking on our feet, we went the extra mile, contacted a top trade publication and discussed a possible partnership on the firm's behalf (anonymously, of course). Knowing a decision was imminent, we dashed off the partnership particulars and let the prospect know we'd be able to implement this tactic, and others, once he selected us. Again, no response whatsoever.

He waited until after hours on a recent Friday afternoon to leave a voice mail indicating they'd gone with another firm. No explanation. No thanks for the presentation or follow-up. Just silence.

I wonder if these Silent Seducers realize how precarious their positions are in today's economy. I also wonder if they realize that if, and when, the roles are ever reversed and they're seeking help on the employment front from us, their pleas will be met with the same deafening sounds of silence on our end.

As Paul Simon wrote, "Silence like a cancer grows…." And, silence begets silence in good times and bad.

Feb 18

Some Spam is a Gas

Most spam is a royal nuisance. Some, though, is so preposterous that it makes me laugh. I get an especially huge kick from the spammers who've taken no time whatsoever to find out what type of business I have. Cases in point:

– The IT consultant who has several tech engineer candidates available for immediate hire or the sales recruiter who sends resumes of Telco salespeople for my review

– The e-mails written entirely in Russian. I sometimes imagine these are from Anastasia Romanov herself who, at the ripe old age of 110-plus, is still trying to convince the world she survived her family's massacre at Ekaterinburg

– The anti-piracy solutions provider who provides software to ward off real-world pirates (think: Bluebeard). I typically put him off by saying we're too busy media training the Somalian pirates at the moment, but will be in touch.

My all-time favorite spam washed up on shore (pirate humor) just a few days ago. It came from a Yemen-based merchant who needed to sell an oil barge and two tug boats. As the owner of a public relations firm, I thanked him and responded by Pirates
saying the smaller of the two tugs probably made more sense in this economy. So, I connected him with Ann Barlow, who runs our anti-piracy/tug boat operations from Peppercom's San Francisco office.

I'm still waiting to hear back from the tug boat merchant, because I'll need to find a crew to go along with the tug. You see, Peg-leg Barlow has a reputation for chewing up tug boat crews and can make Captain Ahab seem tame in comparison. Hopefully, my Yemen spammer also handles executive recruiting.

Feb 17

Enough is Enough

Guest post by Greg Schmalz

With unemployment at nearly 12 million and many businesses cutting back to stay afloat, sports seems to be totally oblivious to what's happening around them.

Player salaries continue to be in the millions and it's a matter of how high will you go. Manny Ramirez for instance, who played last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, rejected a $25 million deal for one season. Both the New York Yankees and Mets have built new stadiums. And the stadiums keep going up.Manny

Which brings me to the new stadium that the New York Giants and Jets are partners in as they will begin play in their new confines in 2010.

Instead of selling naming rights to a corporation the way the Mets have with Citigroup for $400 million over 20 years, the owners have decided to offer Personal Seat Licenses where season ticket holders can buy the seats and have ownership to those seats, yet still have to pay their usual ticket price to see a game.

And while the Giants and Jets will still share the new stadium, some internal marketing knuckleheads believe they will have a "home field advantage" because through modern technology they will able to change the stadium from the Giants red and blue colors to the Jets green and white. 

I grew up as a sportswriter in my teens and was assigned the Jets beat back in the seventies. They played at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York in those days before joining the Giants at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. When I stopped covering the team after the 1979 season, I became a season ticket-holder. I still have tickets, but not for long, because now the team is reaching out to me to buy Personal Seat Licenses (PSL's) for the new stadium.

I received my information about the new plan two weeks ago. Based on my current location in the lower level, the licenses would cost me between $10-15,000 per seat.  I am on the borderline of two price ranges.  I briefly looked at the package, chuckled to myself and set it aside.

Then I received a phone call from a marketing rep (Michael Barrett) Saturday afternoon who went on to say that he will be my personal contact and will walk me through the process.  He asked if I had seen the material, did I have any questions etc.  I got him to confirm my suspicions on pricing etc. and then I told him I will probably pass.

The kid freaked out (I am assuming he was probably early thirties). Naturally, he would not take no for an answer and made it sound like I was missing the deal of a lifetime.

He proceeded to pitch me how the Jets came close this season, were 8-3 at one time and that a new stadium is what's needed to get them over the hump and how could I miss out on such a great opportunity.

I told him I had written Mr. Johnson a three-page letter months ago when they announced their intention of offering PSL's that they are alienating the fan base.  Get this, the kid went on to say that they (the team) are putting money into the team and the facilities to build a championship team.  And that recent Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh, New England and Tampa Bay all won championships after building a new stadium.  Really!

Sure, Tampa Bay whipped Oakland, 48-21, in January 2003. But they haven't won since. In fact, Bucs coach Jon Gruden was fired in Tampa Bay.

If that's the case, what's happened to Houston at Reliant Stadium?  Or Miami in Dolphin Stadium?  The Dolphins haven't appeared in the Super Bowl since they were blasted by Joe Montana and the San Francisco Forty-Niners, 38-16, in Dan Marino's rookie season of 1984. Or how about Detroit at Ford Field?  Didn't they go 0-16 this past season?  How bad would they have been without the new stadium?

So how much does the home field make a difference? Well, Carolina had the best home record last season at 8-0. Yet, the Panthers were soundly beaten by Arizona in the playoffs. The Giants, Atlanta and Tennessee were all 7-1.  But the Giants lost (at home) to Philadelphia, Atlanta lost to Arizona and Tennessee fell (at home) to Baltimore.  So much for the home field advantage.

My recollection is that the Super Bowl is played on a neutral site. Never has the game been played at the site of an NFL team participating in the championship game.  Sure, the 1980 game between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles was played in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl and the 1985 game between San Francisco and Miami was played at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California.

But to win the Super Bowl, you need to win on the road.  Nineteen teams had winning records at home this past season but only 12 had winning road records. Those Jets were 5-3 at home and 4-4 on the road.

Even if the marketing rep was right, who in their right mind would spend that kind of money in this economy? In addition to the PSL's, the ticket prices are jumping from $90 to $145, a hefty increase.

But I do have choices. I don't have to pay the PSL if I opt for a seat in the nosebleeds.  Better yet.  I can watch any game on DirecTV and when the Jets are losing, just switch the channel.  And if I want to spend $20-30,000, I might as well put a down payment on a second home.

It's come time to say "enough is enough."

Feb 12

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Guest post by Maggie O'Neill, senior director Peppercommotions, Peppercom's experiential marketing and events division

The event industry, like so many others this year, already has its reputation on the line and it is only February.  Between Wells Fargo and Fashion Week (two names not usually in a sentence together), the industry has seen a mass exodus of support with once respected events being called frivolous and boondoggles.

This Monday’s New York Times Business Section featured an article “Business Trip or Just a Junket?  It Matters Lately.” Leading with the Wells Fargo “retreat,” the article cites Meeting Professionals International predicting a nine percent decrease in corporate meetings and events in 2009.  This number does not take into account Wells_fargo_logo
predictions of huge sponsorship decline, trade shows and press events. 

Is there justification in the decline and good reason to look for ways to cut back?  Of course.  However, is tossing the whole industry out the solution?  No.  So how can we as an industry create events that make sense in today’s economy?

We need to look beyond “events for events sake” and find a way to work with suppliers, planners and corporations to redefine what an event means.  Should we think digital, focus on a charity or cause around the event to support CSR, find ways to decrease cost and increase impact with a creative approach?  Also, while junkets may be eliminated, we can’t forget about the employees, their recognition and the impact these cancellations are having on other industries.

The article did point out a few bright spots we can look to for inspiration.  North Face, the outdoor apparel company who is not involved with any federal money like Wells Fargo and AIG, has found a creative way to trim the fat but not the fun.  In their retreat last year they cut the cost of 400 hotel rooms and took their group to sleep outdoors with fireside presentations instead of board rooms.   While not every company has the supplies to pull off a camp out success, most can look at their resources and find a new creative way to make an impact without canceling the event.

All in all, there is no denying we need to toss out some bath water in 2009, let’s just not drain the whole tub.

Feb 11

The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

I sure hope the integrated marketing agency model is changing. The traditional version never worked and, lord knows, with traditional advertising in a death spiral, the new integrated marketing model sure needs to feature other, more relevant and cost effective lead disciplines.

I worked for two large integrated marketing agencies in the 1990s. Both talked the talk. But, neither EVER walked the walk. Both assured employees and clients alike that advertising, public relations, direct mail and sales promotion were equal in their importance. But, as was the case in Animal Farm, some disciplines were always more equal than others.

Advertising executives in general ruled supreme in integrated marketing agencies. And, creative directors in particular wielded absolute dictatorial power. Woe betide the lowly PR executive who questioned an advertising executive's decision or, worse, thought of himself as being on the same plane as a creative director.

I reported to one integrated marketing agency CEO who was openly disdainful of PR. I was his hand-picked successor and was expected to think and act as he did. I remember every week or so, he'd come into my office on management row and say, "Let's visit the rats' nest." By that, he meant the PR department. I asked him why he labeled it that way (especially since he himself had begun in public relations). "PR can't be controlled. It's messy. Its people are messy and its offices are always a mess with press kits, trinkets and god knows what. PR is a rats' nest," he'd sniff.

I wonder what that now long-retired CEO must think of the demise of his beloved traditional advertising model and the emergence of that "messy" PR as a dominant integrated marketing discipline.

More to the point, I sure hope his integrated marketing agency successors are rapidly retrofitting their service offering because the king (advertising) is dead. Long live the king (PR).

Feb 10

Peppercom Retained by Canadian Goose Association

– Trade Association intent on transforming bird's negative image after 'Miracle on the Hudson' –

St. John's, Newfoundland, February 11, 2009 — Peppercom announced today it had been retained by the Canadian Goose Association, headquartered here, to launch an aggressive public image campaign for the foul fowl.

The agency's charge will be to "…create heightened awareness of, and appreciation for, the Canadian goose."

Peppercom was selected after an intense search that included 10 agencies, including the incumbent, Flock & Flock of Saskatoon. Goose

Robert Gander, president and CEO of the association, said Peppercom was chosen because it was both "…a high-flying firm and one that can quickly and consistently communicate the many positive attributes of the Canadian goose."

Gander said the PR agency search was initiated in the immediate aftermath of the US Air Flight 1549 crash into New York City's Hudson River (see: "Miracle on the Hudson"). "That was the final straw or, in our case, the final feather," said Gander. "The Canadian Goose has been blamed for every conceivable calamity known to mankind, and we've had it up to here," he said, pointing to his bill.

Steve Cody, managing partner of Peppercom, said his firm would employ a mix of traditional and viral efforts on the CGA's behalf. "We've worked with many tired, bedraggled or misunderstood brands in the past and know how to spotlight the positives," he said. "Job one is letting the average American know about the bird's many attributes."

Among other things, said Cody, the 10-14 pound Canadian goose can procreate faster than you can say rabbit stew. For another, he said, they're hardy creatures and one of the few birds seen in northern climes during the winter. "My heart races whenever I see my boys flying in a tight V formation overhead," sighed Gander. Canadian geese also chill out on the ponds of most corporate headquarters. "More than one stressed Fortune 500 executive has written to tell us how peaceful the geese make him feel," mused Gander, wiping away a tear.

Cody said his agency will demand that all major networks provide equal time to Gander and other Canadian Geese spokespeople. "Turn on the tube nowadays and all you see is Sully this and Sully that (referring to the now-legendary US Air Pilot Sully Sullenberger). The only thing Sully is doing is sullying the good name of the Canadian goose," sniffed Cody

Neither Gander nor Cody would disclose the budget, but both agreed it would easily cover the fuel costs of a typical LaGuardia to Charlotte flight.

Gene Flock, CEO of Flock & Flock, said he was surprised the CGA had put its account up for review, but felt confident right up until the end that F&F would retain the business. "That damn Gander assured me the incumbent always has the advantage in account reviews. Now, I feel as dead as some of those geese that were sucked into the airplane engines," he said. Flock went on to note that his firm had already replaced the CGA billings with several other Canadian trade associations. "Birds of a feather…" he mused.

Peppercom is a strategic communications firm headquartered in New York, and with offices in San Francisco and London.

Feb 09

It’s the End of the World As We Know it, and I Feel Fine

I had the opportunity to share some thoughts on public relations with would-be PR pros at Monmouth University this past Saturday. The school was sponsoring a half-day career seminar for its 500-strong cadre of undergraduate communications majors and had invited agency and corporate types as well as non-profit and human resources pros. It was a cool event.

The theme of the day, though, seemed to be fear. Pervasive fear. More than one student admitted to being absolutely terrified of entering the job market. No wonder, what with the 24×7 negative news these students are being subjected to nowadays. 

My message was simple: chill. Prepare, but chill. There are jobs to be had. But, like any smart marketer, Monmouth students need to think of themselves as brands. They need to employ research, strategy and creativity in securing employment. And, they need to remain upbeat. Even if our nation's GDP will be down five percent in 2009, the remaining 95 percent still represents the world's largest and most robust market. And, that translates to opportunity. Job opportunity.

I told the Monmouth kids to emphasize relevant work experience in their cover letters, resumes and interviews. And, if they didn't have any, I encouraged them to volunteer to write a PR plan for a local restaurant, sports team, theatre, etc. Employers assume a graduate is smart. What we need to know is if you can hit the ground running. So, if you don't have relevant work experience, use the next few months to gain some. Then, research the firm(s) for whom you'd like to work, connect their needs with your experience and, most importantly, keep a stiff upper lip.

It is most surely NOT the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. And, soon-to-be-graduates should as well.