Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Jun 29

Reelin’ in the years

June 29 - cupcake It’s my birthday. No big deal in the grand scheme of things but, as Pink Floyd once wrote, ‘Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.’ Maudlin to be sure, but since we’re all mortal, it’s tough not to reflect on what’s been accomplished and what’s still to be done.

In that spirit, I’ve given some thought to what I’m most proud of and what I’d like to do between now and the inevitable appearance of the Grim Reaper. Here goes:


  • Chris and Catharine
  • Peppercom
  • McGraw-Hill published book, ‘What’s keeping your customer up at night?’ (continues to fly off the bookshelves in Third World countries while gathering dust here)
  • 75 or so stand-up comedy performances
  • One ‘improv’ performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in NYC (easily the toughest mental challenge I’ve yet faced)
  • Mountain climbing, ice climbing, three half marathons and two 18-mile marathons
  • PR industry awards, bylined articles, speeches, panels, agency of the year, yada, yada
  • Mentoring more than one dazed and confused college student


  • Learning a second language
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Climbing at least three more of the Seven Summits
  • Rock climbing
  • Antarctica and the Galapagos
  • Acting
  • Completing my swimming lessons and finishing a sprint triathalon

Reflecting on my mortality, I’m reminded of the classic William Saroyan quip, ‘Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.’ If only……

Jun 25

I wish I’d said that

Legendary Ad Man Bill Bernbach was many things to many people, according to Doris Willens, author of 'Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising.'

June 25 - On the negative side of the ledger, Bernbach was notorious for claiming ownership of his employees' creative ideas. He also enabled political factions to fester within his firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach. Under his tutelage, DDB became shark-infested workplace. He also encouraged what became known as DDB's 'asshole' culture. Everyone smiled at one another in internal agency meetings, but would routinely call one another assholes behind the scenes. Nice, no?

But Bernbach was also advertising's ultimate creative genius and, along with David Ogilvy, responsible for fostering advertising's golden age in the 1960s (beautifully recreated by the AMC series, Mad Men, btw).

Bernbach was absolutely fearless with clients and prospects. He'd fire the former if they meddled with his creative campaigns. And, he'd tell important clients and prospects exactly what he thought of them and their ideas. To wit: 'A VP (with Mobil Oil) was speaking rather proudly about their newly-proposed logo design commemorating the company's 100th birthday. (The client) said with starry-eyed pride, 'Just look at that. It will be displayed on gas stations all over America. Just look at that red O. Right in the center, it will say 1866-1966. Isn't that wonderful. Do you know what that means?'

The room grew silent. Bernbach nodded and said, 'IT MEANS YOU JUST DIED!" Priceless.

His many faults aside, the advertising and PR agency worlds would be better places if we had senior executives who, like Bernbach, weren't afraid to speak the truth.

Jun 24

It’s time to stand-up for the power of comedy

Peppercommers Brendan Mullin and Doug Feingold made their stand-up comedy debuts this past Thursday night at the New York Comedy Club.

June 24 - Brendan Mullin

This alone would warrant a blog since it takes some serious intestinal fortitude to perform stand-up. But, in so doing, Brendan and Doug were also completing the third part of our most unique management training program.

You see, we include stand-up comedy training as part of our Peppercom State management development program. We contract with Clayton Fletcher, a professional comedian, and train each and every level of our organization.

In addition to learning the four distinct types of comedy, our employees are given tips on how to better project their voice, 'read' the non-verbals of an audience and grasp the nuances of pacing and timing. After each 'performs' five minutes of original material in front of their peers, our employees later sit down with our strategy consultant who reviews a videotape of their stand-up to point out areas of improvement.

Our various comedy workshops have been terrific for the individuals involved and absolutely awesome for overall team building and morale enhancement.

Brendan and Doug took the final steps last week by performing live in front of at least 80 people.

Other agencies may be a little stronger in speechwriting or CSR. And The Holmes Report may have named a larger firm for having the best workplace in the industry. But, no one, and I mean, no one, better understands the strategic, competitive advantages of comedy than little, old Peppercom.

Stand-up comedy training isn't right for every organization. In fact, I can think of a few PR firms whose owners would never, ever buy into anything so 'radical' as stand-up comedy training. But, it works for us. And, while The Holmes Report may ignore the trend, Ad Age certainly hasn't (Download AdAge Comedy Article). 

We live in an era in which nearly every kind of business finds itself unable to afford pay increases or bonuses. By partnering with a stand-up comedian like Clayton, however, we've paid a little, but gained a lot. It's high time other business leaders stand up and take note of comedy's strategic role in business.

Did you miss the live show? Download Brendan Mullin's Stand Up Video.

Jun 23

I highly recommend it

Public relations is in the midst of unprecedented change. Traditional media relations, while still important, has been equaled, if not surpassed by social media. Indeed, we’re seeing more and more clients ask about word-of-mouth. How does one inspire, motivate and encourage a prospective or current customer to ‘recommend’ an organization’s product or service to a peer? The answer  to that single question contains the key to the future of marketing communications.

June 23 - socialmedia  

Like many forward-looking organizations, we’re grappling with how one goes about ‘encouraging’ or ‘enabling’ recommendations. We don’t know the full answer, but we have some ideas. In the spirit of openness and transparency, we’d like to get your perspective as well.

So, if you don’t mind, click the survey link below and let me know what you think. I promise to share the findings in a future blog that, I hope, you’ll highly recommend to others.

Check out the survey here.

Jun 22

Let’s see how big we can get before we get bad

June 22 - campaign_vw I'm in the midst of a real page-turner of a business book entitled, 'Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising.' I highly recommend it for anyone in the midst of, or considering, a career in marketing communications.

Written by Doris Willen, who served as Doyle Dane Bernbach's internal public relations director, the tome is a behind-the-scenes, kiss-and-tell all about the rise and fall of, arguably, advertising's greatest agency ever.

Bill Bernbach was the creative genius behind the DDB's rise. But, as the firm grew in prominence, some strange things started to happen. First, although others in the firm were creating the award-winning campaigns, Bernbach was claiming sole, public credit for them (and, considering the oversized egos one finds at any ad agency, that did not sit well). Second, once Bernbach, Dane and Doyle decided to take the firm public, and pocketed almost all of the proceeds for themselves, next generation talent began to grab the best accounts and head elsewhere.

That said, in their day, there was nothing quite like DDB or Bill Bernbach. They competed with one another to create the next, great ad that would:

– Be routinely covered by a Time or Newsweek
– Be envied by Manhattan's top art directors who would pin it on their own agency's bulletin board, and
– Attract new clients like bees to honey.

Bernbach was fearless with clients too. He'd walk away from any account that tried to meddle with his 'big idea.'

In the end, size killed DDB. They simply stopped working as hard to create truly 'great' advertising. And Bernbach's progeny, people such as Mary Wells, left to start their own hot shops. In the end, Bernbach fell victim to a flawed strategy that laid waste to another legendary adman, Jay Chiat, who once said, 'Let's see how big we get before we get bad.'

Doris Willens book is a cautionary tale that reinforces the slippery slope of success. When I look at public relations, I think of some of the once great brands that suffered fates similar to DDB's: Hill & Knowlton is a shell of the firm I joined in 1978. Global heavyweight Carl Byoir is gone completely. As is Rowland & Company. So, too, are the victims of the dotcom bust or the more recent 'great recession.’

While it's brutally tough to become a great agency, Bill Bernbach's fate is a great reminder that once they reach the top of the mountain, too many people and too many firms stop doing all the little things that got them there in the first place.

Jun 19

Football’s version of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield

June 19 - requiem-for-a-heavyweight-anthony-quinn-jackie-gleason-mickey-rooney Professional boxers are notorious for not knowing when to say when. The list of once great pugilists fighting way past their primes is endless and includes everyone from Oscar de la Hoya and Mike Tyson to Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Robinson. The definitive movie on the subject is Rod Serling's 'Requiem for a Heavyweight.' I highly recommend renting it from Netflix.

Boxers stick around for a variety of reasons. Many rose from the ranks of poverty and, once flush with the sweet smell of success, squander their winnings on fast cars, loose women and an exorbitant lifestyle. Faced with mounting bills and lightened wallets, the battered boxers step back into the ring against younger, faster and stronger opponents. Some survive. Others, like Ali, pay a heavy price.

Another big reason for fighting past one's prime is the uber rush that comes from performing in front of adoring fans. Adulation is the meth amphetamine of professional athletes. Which has to be the reason why Brett Favre is still bouncing around on the gridiron.

Favre was clearly past his prime in his final season with the Green Bay Packers. One could argue that he single-handedly lost the NFC title game to the Giants that season. And, his performance with the Jets last year should have convinced everyone, including Favre, that he was done.

Besides the physical risks associated with playing past one's prime, these ill-considered moves do significant damage to the athlete's image and reputation.

I'll always remember the 40-something Willie Mays stumbling and falling in a vain attempt to catch a fly ball in the 1973 World Series. Mays' legs were shot, but he couldn't face retirement. So, he embarrassed himself.

Favre needs to hang up his spikes. The longer he sticks around, the more damage he'll do to his image and reputation.

Jun 18

Hey, it could be worse. We could be lawyers.

June 18 When Kansas City-based Publicist Andi Ennis tells people what she does for a living, she says '…..she'll often get looks suggesting she had just morphed into a hideous bug.' Ouch. And NYC-based PR 'rep' Termeh Mazrahi says people assume she's 'incapable of making genuine, no-B.S. statements.' Double ouch.

Ennis and Mazrahi were interviewed for a ClassesUSA.com article headlined, 'Good careers with bad reputations.' In addition to 'publicist,' the other good career paths with bad reps are mortgage broker, executive recruiter, insurance agent and tax collector.

According to figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (and, I'll bet that's a fascinating read), PR specialist gigs are expected to grow by 18 percent in the next seven years. That's impressive, especially considering the industry-wide contraction in 2009.

I'm not surprised PR jobs have a bad rep. There are a number of reasons why:

  • Hollywood depicts PR people as either clueless, gum-popping blond party planners or sleazy snake oil salesmen
  • The media resent the role played by public relations practitioners in story development and go to great pains to ridicule us at every opportunity
  • Our various PR trade organizations do a woeful job of portraying the many facets of our profession and the countless, positive contributions we make to society.

As a result, we're stuck being listed alongside used car salesmen, mortgage brokers, headhunters and tax collectors. But, hey, it could be worse. We could be lawyers. As bad as our image may be, we'll never come remotely close to the reputation depths plumbed by the average lawyer.

I'm happy to see the strong job prognostications for PR. And, I'm not at all surprised by the 'hideous bug' reaction. But, I am curious as to the type of bug Ms. Ennis would describe as hideous. A tarantula, perhaps? A red ant? Wasps do it for me. In fact, they scare the bejesus out of me. Even more than the average lawyer.

*Special thanks to Jessica Hayward and Matt Sloustcher for the idea.

Jun 17

It’s Time to Reinvent the Cold Call

Guest Post by Melissa Vigue

June 17 I was recently reminded of the Jerry Seinfeld method of dealing with unsolicited sales calls – ask for their number to call them back – when a prospective vendor called my cell phone after hours on a Friday night. While I did not resort to that – and was afraid the vendor might oblige – this did spark heated discussion at the agency and we did a bit of research.

According to the National Sales Executive Association, 80 percent of sales occur between the fifth through 12th contact.  So it’s no wonder that as the AOR for a number of Fortune 500 clients, we receive an inordinate number of cold calls and emails each week from newswire, database, monitoring, and tchotchkes vendors, among others. Yet being on the receiving end of these calls has made us wonder… is there a better way?   

The issue at hand is that many of these are not targeted directly to our or our client’s needs.  Many are very aggressive, and in some recent cases, contain errors in the communication, such as the names of other agencies they have sent the same email to.  Here are just a few recent examples of how these types of communications alienate and infuriate the very account managers companies are trying to sell to.

  • One contact calls the same two people (who sit next to each other!) each week on the same day at the same time with the same pitch – and gets the same result. “Thanks, we’re all set.”  It is important to note that most of us have been receiving calls from this contact for nearly 10 years. A most recent gaffe involved referencing a past project that happened to be a fiasco and almost resulted in litigation. Does anyone wonder why we don’t engage in his pitch?
  • A production company specializing in video news releases, satellite media tours, etc. was recently asked to no longer contact our staff. Why?  Because in addition to making broad assumptions about shrinking budgets, he was calling every Friday from different phone numbers to lure unsuspecting account people into picking up the phone.
  • A recent email from another distribution outfit opened with, “Pardon me for being so direct…” Need I say more?

Is this really how these vendors want to be perceived? In order to succeed on behalf of their clients, agencies need partners, not vendors. We get it, we really do. Targeting potential clients for new business and pitching a story to an editor requires that initial call too.  Here are a few things we try to consider before a pitch, cold call, follow-up call, etc.:

  • Be courteous and respectful of the recipients’ time. Ask if it’s a good time before launching into a pitch.
  • If they say “No, thanks. We’ll call you if a need arises,” they probably don’t have a current need. But if you respect it, they will really call if the need arises!
  • Do the research first.  Learn about the company and person you are calling, and think about how you can add value.
  • Be a resource and be able to offer insight into the industry landscape and trends.
  • Uncover the pain. What unmet need does your prospect have?
  • Bring some ideas to the table (or at least offer to try), not just “We provide XYZ.”

Finally, in a slumping economy – or for that matter any economy – we all need each other.  It is crucial that we forge win-win relationships and work together to provide solutions; otherwise you might be on call 112 before you realize it’s just not working.

Jun 16

The long lost art of the handwritten note

June 16 - penpal1-main_Full Maybe it's a generational thing, but I really appreciate the time and effort that goes into sending a handwritten note by snail mail.

Having just returned from the most excellent PRSA Counselors Academy spring conference, I was greeted by no fewer than three (count 'em, three) handwritten notes.

I'll bet I don't receive three handwritten notes in a quarter, so opening three in a day was, well, a trifecta of sorts.

All three came from fellow counselors: Eric and Shanny Morgenstern of Kansas City, Sydney Ayers of Golden, Colorado, and Dana Hughens of Raleigh. All three were short, sweet and to the point. But, the words and thoughts meant so much more to me precisely because they were written on paper.

Handwritten notes tell me a great deal about a person. I already knew Eric, Shanny and Syd were great people. But, I'd just met Dana.

How cool is it that Dana decided to use a handwritten note to follow-up to our brief meeting in Palm Springs? And, taking Dana's decision one step further, how smart is it to write a letter to totally distinguish oneself from the competition? For example, Ed 'Measuring Up' Moed just lamented about the poor interviewing skills he'd seen from three recent jobseekers. I'm guessing here, but I'll bet not one of the applicants followed up their Ed meeting with a handwritten thank you. It's subtle. But, it's huge.

Eric, Shanny, Syd and Dana aren't looking for jobs. They're just friends who took the time and effort to tell me they cared. And, in today's information overloaded world in which we live, that's huge. Thanks guys! I owe you a handwritten response.