May 13

Hey, you want a piece of me?

May 13 - nj Hard on the heels of the happy news that New Jersey finished in the middle of the pack of a Forbes '50 happiest states' rankings comes the debut of a depressing Bravo series called 'Real Housewives of New Jersey.'

The former is quite a coup for the much-maligned Garden State, alternatively known as 'America's armpit.' New Jerseyans told Forbes researchers that they were doing just fine, thank you, in such areas as: well-being, life evaluation, work quality, basic access to infrastructure services, healthy behavior, and physical and emotional health.

For the record, Utah finished first in the happiest states rankings (I guess plural marriages do work) and West Virginia finished dead last (my apologies to faithful readers Lunchboy and Lance LePoer, who have direct ties to the coal mining capital of the U.S.).

So, while I was pleased to see my beleaguered home state do fairly well (and finish far ahead of New York and those snobby Manhattanites. Take that, Ms Scheluter-Brown-Schleuter), I was simultaneously dismayed to read about the debut of Bravo's Real Housewives of NJ series. The latter will quickly undo any good done by the Forbes rankings and, like the Sopranos before it, convince viewers everywhere that the state is populated by hordes of mindless, silicone-enhanced, dyed blond gold-diggers named Teresa, Dina and Caroline who spout such mal mots as, 'Her heart is as big as her bubbies.'

Hey, we New Jerseyans are used to taking the good with the bad. For every Bernardsville, Spring Lake and Upper Saddle River, we also have a Camden, Trenton and Bogota. For every Woodrow Wilson, Peter Rodino and Vince Lombardi, we also have a Sharp James, Robert Brennan and Aaron Burr.

Our state's image and reputation may have scored a momentary victory with a decent Forbes ranking, but it's almost expected that a Bravo-type series will counter with a body blow of a reality show that perpetuates NJ's love affair with Mob-connected families from Franklin Lakes.

But, hey you got a problem with that? You want a piece of me? You think New Jersey will ever have a good image? Fuggedaboutit!

May 12

World class networking and a chance to honor Valerie Di Maria? What more could you ask for?

May 12 - big apples Winning PRSA New York's Big Apple awards in the mid and late 1990s helped put a fledgling Peppercom on the radar screen of PR's movers and shakers. The events also helped yours truly hone my nascent networking skills.

So, when I was asked to chair the sponsorship committee for this year's event, I readily agreed despite the challenges of doing so in the worst economy in recent times. I'm happy to report we've raised quite a few bucks and that the event, set for May 21st at the Rainbow Room, should be way cool.

I'm doubly pleased that longtime buddy and erstwhile client, Valerie Di Maria, will be receiving the John W. Hill Award that night. Valerie, you see, was also instrumental in my firm's early success. It was Valerie who, as head of GE Capital's corporate communications at the time, rolled the dice and hired a very new and still relatively inexperienced Peppercom for a major branding program. It was a huge breakthrough win for us and established our street cred in a major way.

So, here's hoping you can join hundreds of other PR types in an uber networking event and pay homage to a most deserving industry leader, Valerie Di Maria. Trust me, it's a relatively small, but strategically smart, investment for you and your organization.

May 11

Celebrity sightings in our time

May 11 - Mac I've had the opportunity to work with, or meet, quite a few celebrities in my day. I bring this up because Stan Phelps, a friend and fellow climber, just sent me a note about his work with Billie Jean King and John McEnroe.

Having endured a most unpleasant experience working with the 'Superbrat' way back when, I was curious to know how Stan had fared (Stan said Mac had been '…..very well behaved.' How 'bout that?).

McEnroe ranks a close second to The Rolling Stones on my personal list of worst celebrity encounters (I helped publicize the Steel Wheels Tour for Showtime Event Television and found Mick, Keith and the boys openly hostile to everyone and everything).

Mac and Mick's maladroit manners aside, I've been fortunate to interact with some genuinely nice celebrities, including:

  • Muhammad Ali (he winked at me. Right back at you, big guy.)
  • Smokin' Joe Frazier (spent 25 minutes talking boxing with me and said Scrap Iron Johnson was the hardest puncher he'd ever faced)
  • Rod Stewart (did everything I asked prior to, during and after a USA Today interview for another Showtime event)
  • Phil Collins (see: Rod Stewart)
  • Willie Mays (a real gentleman, who got a big kick out of my knowledge of his 1962 S.F. Giants).
  • Willis Reed (the captain was all class)

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May 08

Chasing the almighty dollar

May 8- money There are always two sides to every story. But, in my view, the decision by Forever 21 and Target to launch 'plus-size' lines for obese teenagers comes down to one thing: chasing sales no matter what the cost.

I agree that all sized teens should have the same fashion options. But, selling lines that go up to size 30 sends exactly the wrong message: '…It's ok to eat to excess and jeopardize your long-term health. We'll still provide you with every fashion accessory your slimmer, healthier peers sport.'

According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, the rate of obesity among adolescents 12-19 has more than tripled in the last 20 years. Providing a full line of plus size clothes is tantamount to telling these teens: 'Go ahead and inhale the Double Whopper, large fries and super-sized Coke. We'll have your dress and accessories waiting on aisle four.' (Note: my comments do not apply to those teens who suffer from medical or genetic disorders and can't control their weight).

Industry analysts estimate that Target, Forever 21 and other retailers who follow their sorry lead could be looking at an additional $3 billion in business within two years or less. In short, the almighty dollar trumps clearly corporate social responsibility for these organizations.

Advocates of plus-sized jean clothing say the obese have been penalized in the past for being overweight, and the Forever 21 and Target decisions are akin to a fashion Independence day for them. Obese teens may feel newly liberated, but sending a signal to them that it's ok to jeopardize one's health in the name of fashion is akin to turning an alcoholic loose in a liquor store. '…..Drink as much as you want. We believe alcoholics should have as many options as responsible adults.'

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Forever 21 and Target's moves are not only desperate, they're despicable.

May 07

Hey, it could be worse. You could be Mikheil Saakashvili.

Sometimes it takes a compelling photograph, a tear-jerker of a story or the sight of a street person badly beaten down by life to remind me that I've got it really good. Sure, I worry about the economy, my kids' future and whether the Mets $36 million investment in Oliver Perez was, in fact, the huge mistake it now appears to be.

May 7 - wsj But, then, I see something like Wednesday's Wall Street Journal front page photograph of Mikheil Saakashvili, surrounded by AK-47-toting security guards and I breathe a sigh of relief. Who, you may ask, is Mr. Saakashvili? He's the president of Georgia (the country, not the SEC bastion of legendary college football running backs).

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. And this one is a real beaut. It depicts the country's chief executive entering a Georgian military base where an attempted mutiny had just been squashed. The president's security guard 'heavies' look like set actors from The Sopranos and Saakasvili's expression is priceless. He's glancing to his immediate left and his eyes speak volumes: 'God, is that guy going to shoot me? Is that group about to kidnap me? Is that a grenade in that thug's pocket or is he just happy to see me?'

There's stress and then there's real stress. The next time I'm feeling a little down, I'm going to re-read this blog, check out the photo and thank my lucky stars I'm not president of Georgia (the country, not the home of America's finest peaches).

May 06

What do ‘Saw 3,’ ‘CSI:Miami’ and working parents have in common?

I attended a presentation last night that was equal parts fascinating and disturbing. It was held at the Manhattan townhouse of a fellow Northeastern alum and featured Jack Levin, Ph.D., and co-director of NU's Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.

May 6 - violence Dr. Levin is arguably the world's leading expert on what he calls 'murder, mayhem and the media.' He studies serial killers, mass murderers and the rise of violence in society. Not your everyday line of work, to be sure. 

Levin says our hyper-violent society is spiraling ever further out of control. He cites a number of reasons why:

– the motion picture industry's rating system which, he says, goes virtually unenforced. As a result, kids as young as 10 are routinely allowed into theatres to watch such horrific slasher flicks as 'Saw,' 'Vacancy' and 'Basketball Diaries.'

– the lack of parental supervision at home. Moms and dads are both working nowadays (except the unemployed ones, of course). As a result, latchkey kids have unlimited access to the most violent programming on TV (Levin says most violent crimes committed by kids occur during the unsupervised, after school hours of 3-7 pm)

– an increase in not only the quantity, but the 'quality' of carnage on both the small and large screens. Levin says he's visited many crime scenes and attended countless autopsies, but the real thing is now being equaled, if not surpassed, in graphic reality by TV shows like 'Bones,' 'Law and Order' and the 'CSI' series. Levin says they routinely broadcast the most heinous, hideous and graphic images.

Now, add a dash of easy access to paramilitary weapons and a glorification of villains by the media and you have the final ingredients for widespread death and destruction. On the subject of media coverage, Levin showed us how the cover of People Magazine has dramatically changed since the magazine's introduction and now routinely features murderers and serial killers alongside the likes of Brangelina and Tomcat. Last, but definitely not least, we have the insatiable appetites of ordinary Americans weighed down by the drudgery of their lives who simply can't get enough blood and guts.

It's a toxic cocktail and one that Levin says has become more lethal with each passing decade. The only solution: boycotting TV programs and movies that carry such obscenities. It works, he says, citing Don Imus as a textbook example. Imus, says Levin, is 100 percent non-racist in his content since being fired by WFAN for his Rutgers' women basketball team comments a few years back.

The other solution? Disengaged parents need to engage the 'V-chip' on their cable boxes. If they won't supervise their kids' home viewing habits, says Levin, at least they can limit access to the most violent programming.

Levin shared a sad, sobering, scenario last night. For me, the bleakest parts concerned the future: things are very bad, only getting worse and no one really seems to be angry about it. What does it say about the image (if not the morals and ethics) of an entire population that allows this sorry state of affairs to continue unfettered?

May 05

Thank god it’s not being called the Flack Flu

May 5 - worried pig The world's pig population has to be in full panic. Governments from Mexico to Egypt are ordering mass extermination of the bovine creatures because of their suspected involvement in spreading swine flu. World health officials are trying to intervene, but the machetes are being wielded nonetheless as the blogosphere blissfully tweets away.

Now if I were a pig (and, some have suggested the moniker fits), I would be more upset with the media and less so at the executioners (not that I'd be greeting any gun-totting militiaman with a welcoming squeal, mind you).

The media have really outdone themselves with their incredible 24×7 frenzy over what's now being called the H1N1 flu (and, god, let's hope there isn't some unsuspecting family with that surname).

Despite calls for calm by the White House, we continue to see reporters gleefully extort their viewers, listeners and readers to hunker down and avoid crowded, enclosed areas. Other 'journalists' proudly display maps depicting the hundreds of school closings around the country. And the talk show hosts trot out all sorts of medical history wonks who are only to happy to compare and contrast the global pandemics of 1918-19 and today.

Sure, some people have gotten sick and, sadly, a few have even died. But, the hype is way, way over the top. Worried moms are keeping their kids home, and school superintendents are shuttering their establishments, all while the makers of TamiFlu and Dove soap rack up record sales (hey, somebody has to benefit from a holocaust).

Meanwhile, the poor, little pigs are being rounded up and slaughtered. Where's the Pig Protection Society (PPS) when you really need them? Rutting around in the mud, no doubt. What about the all-powerful Friends of Swine and Whine (FSW) lobby? Probably munching on pigs in a blanket at some swanky Georgetown party.

There's a new, and terrifying, Boer War underway. While I'm genuinely sad to see my four-legged friends being cut down in their prime, I can only breathe a sigh of relief that some lab technician at the Centers for Disease Control didn't decide to call this particular outbreak the Flack Flu. Now, that would take PR industry downsizing to a whole new level.

May 04

Pay per placement cheapens the public relations model

May 4 - News outlets Good friend and erstwhile client Julie Farin called my attention to a recent blog entry from a 'PR firm' called Ink, Inc. Pay per placement is a flawed way to measure and charge for public relations services. To begin with, they're not practicing public relations. They're doing media relations. Pure media by the pound. So, from that perspective the Ink, Inc. folks don't understand that comparing hourly and monthly billing rates with pay per placement is like comparing apples with oranges.

Ink, Inc. also claims that the standard billing model is a 'game' played by larger agencies. They say, and I quote, 'The game comes in the recording of the time actually spent doing client business, including writing timesheets, and is often the most creative thing one does weekly.' That's pure BS.

What the Ink, Inc. people don't, or won't, get is that public relations is far more than mere media placements. It includes everything from strategic positioning and crisis counseling to helping a client organization develop corporate social responsibility programs and effectively communicate in the new social media world. That sort of work demands high level counseling that should be tracked, and billed, on an hourly basis. To do otherwise is to cheapen and demean the work being done by top public relations professionals.

I'm a big believer in live and let live. If these guys want to charge a gullible client on a payment-by-placement basis, then I say go for it (but, what do you base your rates on? Corresponding advertising dollars? If so, that too, is ersatz). But, please, don't confuse prospective clients by suggesting larger and more respected firms are playing some sort of billing shell game. It's unfair and untrue.

May 01

Has Web 2.0 killed the Dead?

Guest Post from Ted Birkhahn

May 1 - Dead The past Saturday night, the Dead (formerly known as the Grateful Dead) rolled into the Big Apple to play Madison Square Garden – sans Jerry Garcia, of course. For those of you who have a passion for the band and their music, the Garden is arguably the best venue to experience a show. Great things tend to happen at MSG and, as Jerry Garcia used to say, "the place is juiced." 

One of the greatest parts of any Dead show is its spontaneity. There is nothing like a live performance featuring the Grateful Dead. No two shows are alike – despite playing nearly 3,000 live concerts over more than 40 years – prompting much anticipation among fans who dream of hearing set lists that will "steal your face right off your head." Their spontaneity and ability to improvise on stage is what the Dead built their brand on over the course of 40 years. It's what prompted so many fans to fall in love with not just the music but the whole experience, compelling them to come back night after night. 

So there I was on Saturday night at MSG, with a flood of memories from past Garden shows racing through my mind, when the unthinkable happened. About midway through the first set, a friend of mine – who was busy checking his Blackberry – leaned over and fed me the next song before one first chord was played. Impressive. Then he did the same for the next song. Weird. 

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