Apr 15

I hate to say I told you so, but….

You know a seismic upheaval is underway when an advertising professional says public relations is the smartest marketing investment a company can make in a recession. I'll let you read what Steve McKee of a Cleveland-based ad agency has to say, but I will add a few other points:April 15 - credibility1

1) Advertising has always insisted upon an inside-out approach along the lines of: "Hey! Look at our new product or service! Isn't it wonderful?'' Public relations, on the other hand, has always engaged a reporter and his/her audience in a problem-solution dialogue: "Hey! Did you know that 88 percent of Americans just surveyed said the number one thing they need is ABC? Our client has a next generation ABC that I think you and your readers will want to know more about."

2) People don't need to pay for advertising anymore, so they don't. Web 2.0 consumers depend upon word-of-mouth and other forms of credible endorsement to make informed decisions. They TiVo their way through television programs and delete intrusive online ads. That said, they search like mad for news and information from credible sources.

3.) PR is much, much more than what Mr. McKee describes. In the postEnron, current AIG environment in which we live, PR has become fundamental to a brand's image and reputation. Open and honest internal and external dialogue, transparent conversations and fiscal responsibility are the new watchwords of the consumer conversation.

Mr. McKee quotes the ad agency Crispin Porter Bogusky's definition of advertising as: "Making our clients heroes." In this 'new normal' in which we live, my definition of PR might be "Making our clients credible."

The king is dead. Long live the king.

Apr 14

The Michael Scott Paper Company

Along with 'The American Experience,' and 'Mistresses,' I have to admit that 'The Office' is my favorite television show. While it's suffered noticeably in the last season or two, I've loved the latest plot twist: Michael and Pam have left Dunder Miflin ('Limitless paper for a paperless world') to start The Michael Scott Paper Company.

Michael's new business is headquartered in a broom closet wedged in-between the men's and women's rooms, respectively. Along with fellow Dunder-Miflin outcast, RyaThe Officen, Michael and Pam share 126 square feet of office space, and are constantly bumping into one another. It makes for hilarious viewing and, in my case, evokes a flood of memories from Peppercom's first year in business.

Like The Michael Scott Paper Company, Peppercom was desperate to find some kind of 'real' office space (30 days of working in Ed's apartment had pretty much ruined my entrepreneurial enthusiasm). So, like Michael Scott, we sublet the equivalent of about 126 square feet of office space from a good friend and fellow, former Hill and Knowlton employee, Jeff Moriber. Jeff and his partner, Murray Salit, occupied a small office in the cavernous Graybar Building that provided design services and sported a handsomely embossed sign on suite 1920 that read 'Salit & Moriber.'

Just like Michael Scott, who created a sign reading The Michael Scott Paper Company and scotch taped it over the existing broom closet sign, Ed and I created a small foam board that read 'Peppercom.' We stuck double-sided tape on it and, with Jeff and Murray's ok, would paste it over their sign whenever a prospect paid us a visit.

Ed and I each had our own office, which was nice. But, there was no official conference room so, whenever a client or prospect did pay us a call, we'd hastily move things around in Ed's office and, voila, we had a conference room.

In the same way Michael needed Pam and Ryan to help pitch business and add legitimacy, Ed and I had our own early cast of characters as well: Karen Cleeve, Debrah Hussey and Efrem 'Luigi' Epstein. Karen was a great account executive. Clients and prospects loved Debrah, who was our Pam Beasley. And 'F' was our version of Dwight Shrute. He was a fulltime freelance publicist, with a boatload of eccentricities that included the ability to guess the day of the week on which a person had been born ('…..June 29, 1954? Let's see, July 4th was a friday that year so, yes, you were born on a Sunday.').

This team helped establish our image and reputation in those critical early months. After we'd won a few clients and started adding employees, though, things became a bit dodgier. Sometimes, clients would arrive earlier than expected and catch us in the act of retrofitting Ed's office. Other times, we'd be escorting a client out the front door and, boom, our jerryrigged sign would fall off the door revealing a gleaming 'Salit & Moriber' plaque underneath.

Ed and I still joke about a bogus client called Cleaner Options that had hired us for a small project. We didn't get them on the cover of BusinessWeek, so they fired us. In the termination letter, they added a PS, stating, 'By the way, we know Ed's office is also your conference room.'

Those were great times and great experiences. In fact, in many ways, that first year of business was the very best one in my career. So, here's hoping The Michael Scott Paper Company succeeds. And, if I see a future episode in which Michael's office is being converted into a conference room, I'm going to call our crack lawyer, Mike Lasky, and have him sue NBC for intellectual property damage.

Apr 13

I was never sympatico with Enfatico

WPP announced Friday it was folding its much-heralded, one-stop shop called Enfatico into its Young & Rubicam Brands unit. The move comes as absolutely no surprise and means that Enfatico is now just part of a larger ad agency.

In case you don't recall, Enfatico was created by WPP in the midst of a titanic, new business struggle between the holding companies for the once massive Dell Computer account. It was WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell's brainchild and positioned as the 'ideal' solution to Dell's stated desire for a fully-integrated parter. Rather than having a single WPP agency such as JWT or Ogilvy pitch Dell, Sir Martin instead forged an entirely new entity called Enfatico. It was led by executives from WPP's best and brightest advertising, public relations, digital and research units, and it won the day.  Even so, Enfatico seemed to many industry observers at the time as a house of cards.
Enfatico just might have worked if the economy hadn't headed south and their 'rabbi' at Dell, Mark Jarvis, hadn't left the client organization. But, when you mix a horrific economy with a change in chief marketing officers, it almost always spells doom.

Since Enfatico won the business, Dell's spending has dropped from just under $800 million to $379 million. Ouch! And, Enfatico has been unable to attract other clients to its roster. End result: bye-bye autonomy and hello subservient Y&R subsidiary.

I'll bet the Enfatico brand name disappears entirely in a year or so. Integrated marketing is a flawed concept. First, it assumes that one can assemble the very best advertising, PR, digital and research talent in the industry and create a super agency. Second, it assumes these ego-driven personalities could co-exist in the same office.

I worked for two 'fully-integrated agencies in the 1990s. Neither one is still around. They didn't work because the best PR people didn't like being treated as second-class citizens by their advertising brethen. And clients weren't very keen on the various disciplines bickering over how best to spend the budget.

Despite its obvious failure, high profile 'solutions' such as Enfatico will emerge again in the future. Why? Because there will always be a new Mark Jarvis type who comes along believing that a super, integrated agency will make him a rock star. And, because there will always be a Sir Martin type who will be ready, willing and able to take another stab at a broken model.
For now, Enfatico will continue to do work for Dell as part of Y&R. But, I sense an account review in the very near future. And, don't be surprised if the new powers-that-be at Dell say they believe working with separate agencies is the smarter way to go. Ob-la-di. Ob-la-da. Life goes on.

Apr 10

Instant karma’s gonna get Chase

There's a particularly infuriating and, in my opinion, totally off-base commercial bombarding my San Francisco hotel TV set. It's from JP Morgan Chase and is intended to introduce local Chase banking to the Bay Area.

That's cool. But, they've chosen a cover version of John Lennon's 'Instant Karma' as their background music. Now, I'd defer to far more knowledgeable Beatles' experts such as Syd Steinhardt and Julie Farin, but Lennon's song was all about the brevity of life. 'We all shine on. The earth, the moon and the stars,' wrote Lennon. His lyrics underscored the brevity of life and not, unless I'm badly mistaken, a celebration of it.

Chase, though, depicts a bunch of happy-go-lucky people jogging, swimming and cavorting in a carefree way set against Lennon's ominous warning that, 'Instant karma's gonna get you.'

Maybe Chase is just setting consumers' expectations and the instant karma in this case is the credit crunch? Maybe they're suggesting yes, go ahead and invest your hard-earned money in our retail banks. But, don't blame us if it disappears overnight.

Instant karma should 'get' whatever creative team created this loser of an ad campaign.

Apr 09

We have no intention of becoming PR’s version of the Packard

Al Ries, marketing, branding and positioning guru
extraordinaire, has penned a most fascinating opinion piece in a recent Ad Age. April 9 - Packard

The Ries piece (I couldn't resist) warns such marketers as
Starbucks and Cadillac to stop cheapening their brand before it's too late.
Ries says the long lost Packard automobile did just that and died as a result.

Prior to The Great Depression, says Ries, Packard totally
dominated the U.S.
luxury car market. In fact, Cadillac was little more than a distant blip in
Packard's rear view mirror. But, when the downturn came, Packard developed a
much lower cost alternative. The cars sold well. But, when the economy
rebounded, newly affluent Americans went with Cadillac, which had remained true
to its high-priced, high-quality roots throughout the Depression. Packard never
recovered and eventually disappeared altogether in 1957.

Now, fast forward to today. I see lots of commentary in the
PR and advertising trades from agency leaders who are suggesting that others
follow their lead in cutting billing rates to 'ensure ongoing business and
demonstrate value.' I see other 'leaders' offering 'lite' versions of their
positioning, media training and media relations services or charging $500 per
press release. I think such 'strategies' scream desperation and cheapen an
agency's brand.

I think, instead, we should be providing additional value by
being more creative, getting closer to our clients' customers and helping our
clients fight the good fight when their purchasing, finance or legal
departments suggest wholesale marketing cuts.

Cheapening your brand by lowering your billing rates or
giving away your services in "a la carte" menu style will cause you
huge headaches when the economy rebounds. And good luck convincing your clients
that you deserve a rate increase just because other vendors have increased

We all have to endure budget cuts. They're a fact of life.
But offering the PR version of instant coffee a la Starbucks or a Cimarron a la Cadillac is a penny-wise, pound-foolish
strategy. (And Cadillac's mistake of the 1980s was all the more dumbfounding,
considering that it defied the very strategy that made them a big name brand
coming out of the Depression.)

The good times will return. Maintaining one's position as a
high quality service provider during the downturn will ensure a swifter return
to heady profits in the days to come. We, for one, have no interest in
becoming our industry's version of the Packard.

Apr 08

How would you do on this test?

You know times are tough when "Fortune Small Business" runs a 10-question survey businessTest
owners can take
to determine what kind of shape their business is in. I decided to see how I’d do…

1) Is your problem cash flow, dwindling profits or both? That’s Ed’s area. Not mine.

2) Has the problem been fixed? I’m not sure. But, Ed’s been looking a little stressed of late.

3) Are you in an industry that’s going bad, making it hard to profit? I hate to say it, but public relations is still one of the first things companies cut when the going gets rough. That said, I count my blessings everyday that I’m not in advertising.

4) If you can fix the business, how much money can you make in the future? Let me ask Ed and I’ll get back to you.

5 )If you decide to quit, what will the consequences be? Most likely, a huge celebration.

6) Could you make more money or be happier doing something else? Yes, playing center field for the Mets.

7) Do you have any fight left? Are you kidding? Bring it on.

8) How are you holding up physically? The female construction workers still whistle at me.

9) Do you just feel alone, or are you really alone? I dig solitude.

10) Are you having fun? Depends on the day, but overall I’m loving the challenges that come with running a business in the midst of an apocalypse. Anyone can run a business in boom times. Ed and I are at our best when the chips are down, so watch out world.

Apr 07

The Penn Station Shuffle

I've just read that one in five American pre-schoolers is obese. That comes as no surprise since Nm_obese_baby_080818_mn
their parents are mostly sedentary and allow the little darlings to vegetate in front of computer screens and stuff their mouths full of fast food and soft drinks.

I actually experience a small part of the obesity epidemic in my everyday commute.

Each day, after my chronically-late 7:28 am NJ Transit train has lurched its way into Penn Station, I fight my way through the hordes of fellow commuters towards the Seventh Avenue exit ramps. And, that's where I witness the Penn Station Shuffle.

As I approach the stairs and escalator, I always make a beeline to the left, because there's always an enormous line on the right. That's where the escalator is. And, that's where sedentary, lazy commuters patiently wait in line to board an escalator that covers the equivalent of perhaps 50 small steps. I always shake my head in bewilderment, wondering why so many obviously harried and frazzled commuters are nonetheless more than willing to wait on long lines just to avoid a little exercise.

Having just toured Scotland and listened to news reports, read newspapers and spoken to countless locals, I can tell you our country's image and reputation is at an all-time low. It's not just the senseless carnage in Iraq or the global credit crunch that many see as being our fault. It's also our self image. Many Scots see Americans as lazy, spoiled and obese. And they like to kid about our nationwide obesity problem.

Obesity isn't a laughing matter, especially when it's becoming an albatross for future generations. But, what hope do our kids have when their role models continue to inhale Big Macs, wash them down with calorie-rich colas and wait on line to do the Penn Station Shuffle?

Apr 06

The wee Ben

It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally figured out why I love mountain climbing so much. It isn’t 
the challenge, although that’s part of it. And, it isn’t the sense of accomplishment, althoughIMG_0374
that’s huge. For me, it’s the profound 
physical, mental and spiritual experience of the event itself.

This past week, Chris RepMan, Jr., and this blogger climbed Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the highest point in the U.K. While it isn’t much when stacked up against Kilimanjaro, Mt. Shasta or some of the Rockies we’ve attacked, the ‘wee Ben’ is one tough slog.

We hired a local guide, Peter Khambatta, to take us to the top. I asked Peter at the base what we could expect. He replied by saying the wee Ben was “…a good workout in the summer, but a right beast in the winter.” He was IMG_0361
spot on.

The climb began in gorgeous, rolling hills that quickly escalated to steep, hilly inclines. These, in turn, gave way to even steeper, icy sections. Near the top, we were slowed down by two to three-foot deep snowdrifts, brutally high winds and total whiteout conditions. Without Peter, we would have been totally lost. I told Chris I felt more like a member of the Ernest Shackleton expedition than a mountain climber in Scotland. The conditions were so bleak that Peter stopped every 50 feet or so to get his bearings on a compass. Afterwards, he told us the wee Ben claims a few lives every winter when unsuspecting, snow blind climbers walk right off the edge.

Happily, that didn’t happen to us. We reached the summit in four hours and spent a few minutes in the howling wind enjoying the conquest. The climb down was no picnic either, but it provided a sensory overload of amazing panoramic views in every direction. We saw ice blue lochs, green and purple valleys and, in the distance, the fabled Isle of Skye.

Through it all, the sense of peace, silence and serenity was truly overwhelming.

The beautiful thing about climbing is the single-minded focus it demands. I was laser-focused on each and every step for seven-plus hours, knowing that a misstep could cause a broken ankle or worse. When we finally reached the base, the relief was palpable. And, the endorphin rush was more intense than after any half-marathon I’ve ever finished.

My body ached, but my mind felt totally refreshed. In fact, even though I’d probably just expended some 2,500 calories or more, I felt like I’d taken a long, restful nap. It was that profound.

I don’t recommend climbing for everyone. But, I do recommend some hobby or avocation that takes one’s mind off the credit  crunch, the credit crunch, finding a job or dealing with the client who’s put your account up for review, but says not to worry because the incumbent always has the advantage.

We can’t control a runaway recession or a disloyal client, but we can dictate how we live our lives. For me, climbing mountains is living life to the max.

Apr 02

Just Like Two Peas in a Pod

What do Comcast and Crest Pro Health toothpaste have in common? They're both horrific consumer products.

Repman readers know of my recent travails with Comcast cable service. After having disrupted my premium cable service for a full week and bouncing us from one voice mailbox to another, a cool customer service rep named Frank finally intervened and promised the service would be restored. He also assured me my experience was a true anomaly. 

Well, guess what? Comcast pulled the plug again on Tuesday even though our account's paid in full. Voice mailbox hell is as unhelpful and aloof as ever. And Frank? Well, I shot him an e-mail only to receive an out-of-office response. Nice. 

Comcast deserves a special place in customer service hell (assuming one believes in such a place. If not, a never-ending ride on New Jersey Transit will suffice).

Keep your eyes on Crest Pro Health toothpaste, though. It's a strong, up-and-coming competitor to Comcast. ProhealthPasteLo

Have you tried this stuff? It leaks. Everywhere. The crap oozes out of the tube and spreads across the sink like the blob in the classic Steve McQueen Sci-fi. It not only pools up like a gooey peat bog, but Crest Pro Health also proves amazingly difficult to clear away (In fact, each time the muck oozes out, I feel like a member of the Exxon Valdez clean-up crew). Who devised this stuff? More importantly, who was responsible for the market research?

Did no one speak up? I can imagine the focus group……

Crest market researcher: "So, how does everyone feel about the new toothpaste?"

Focus group participant: "Very tasty. And my teeth seem whiter than ever. There is that problem with the aquamarine goo that oozes out on my sink. It's impossible to clean up."

Crest market researcher: "'Excellent. Would you recommend it to others?"

Focus group participant: "It's tasty, but I spend more time mopping up the mess on the sink than I do brushing my teeth."

Crest market researcher: "Excellent. So, you're suggesting that Crest Pro Health also provides an upper body workout?"

Focus group participant: "Well, my forearms are sore and I'm angry with the mess it causes."

Crest market researcher: "Thanks so much. This is great feedback and may suggest some smart marketing partnerships for the brand with fitness clubs and anger management specialists."

Now that I think about it, maybe I'll use Crest Pro Health to terrorize Comcast into taking some positive action. I could sneak into their local offices and leave behind packages of the nasty, gooey toothpaste along with a note: "Enjoy cleaning up your sinks. You'll keep finding this horrific substance in your restrooms until and unless my premium cable service is restored. Signed, A repelled and rebellious Repman."
Apr 01

Suits, Ties and the American Express Card: Don’t Leave Home WITH Them

U.K. media are in a positive tizzy over the G20 Summit meeting in London. Some headlines suggest it's now or never for the world's economic future. Others predict embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown needs to pull an economic rabbit out of his hat to hold onto his job. And, those omni-present paparazzi marvel at Michelle Obama's wardrobe ("……It's spot on, Penny" or "…..I must say I find it a tad too upscale for these times, Fiona" ). 

Other headlines warn "City" employees to dress down. They say that irate working class Brits are livid at their banking sector peers and might very well follow their French peers' lead and hold bankers hostage, rough them up or even worse. "…….So, keep those suits and ties on the hanger for the time being," warned The Times of London. 
RBS 01.04.09
Security and media outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in London in anticipation of protests

Amidst the chaos, I found the American Express card's near universal rejection almost comical. I've come to Europe many times in the past and seen acceptance of the Amex card spotty at best. Now, in the wake of the global crisis and the eight years of damage done to America's global image by Messrs Bush and Cheney, I'm experiencing outright contempt by local retailers when I do present the Amex card. One Glaswegian restauranteur sniffed and said, "An American Express card? Are you kidding? Not only are their retailer charges totally excessive, but they treat us like dirt. And, a card with the word 'American' in it?" he asked, with an arched eyebrow. "Put it away now," he advised. 

Yes, Virginia, being an American on European holiday can be a dodgy thing (as the Scots like to say). We're being blamed for everything from Middle East discord and terrorism to the economic recession and global warming (source: our Ben Nevis guide). If it's bad, it's America's fault. 

I've found avoiding the BBC news feeds helps. So, too, does mountain climbing and stand-up comedy. Now, I can add another stress buster to my personal "to do" list. Leave the American Express card at home. 

It's too bad Karl Malden's no longer among the living. American Express could dust him off, throw him a few greenbacks and have him insert the word "WITH" instead of "WITHOUT" in those old "…Don't leave home…" TV commercials. Come to think of it, they may want to consider a name change in about 150 countries outside the U.S.