Jul 29

Being Laura Zanzal

July 29 - the-office-michael-scott I can't take credit for the original idea. That belongs to erstwhile Peppercommers Stephanie Chaney and Jenny Grendel. They're the ones who, hearing my various thoughts on agency leadership and innovation, suggested I put my money where my mouth was and swap jobs with a member of the rank-and-file. Job swap, they said, and you'll have a much better feel for what the agency needs to do to be better.

And, job swap I did. And, I found that Steph and JenGren were 100 percent right.

I first became Rob Longert for a day and saw how much time was being wasted on mundane daily news searches (we ended up outsourcing the function to our London office in a true win-win fashion. They made money for the searches and our New York employees gained invaluable strategic time).

I also experienced the then-horrific acoustics of cubeland and asked our office manager to install sound-absorbing baffles in the ceiling. And, I saw how difficult it was to report into multiple bosses, all of whom had priorities and deadlines. We subsequently created workshops aimed at helping better manage up, down and across the organization as a result.

Being Rob Longert for a day sucked the lifeblood out of me. But, I think it made our New York office just a little better.

I next became Sophie Hanson in our London office. Whilst (notice my deft use of the Queen's English) my experiences as Sophie weren't quite as seismic, I did do a spot of press release writing and pitching and had any number of Brits hang up on me because they couldn't understand my 'weird' New Jersey accent.

And, what of Rob and Sophie? How did they spend their days as Steve Cody? Each authored a 'guest' Repman blog. Each imitated my daily regimen by disappearing for a long workout at lunchtime and each attended various internal meetings in which they, like me, contributed little save a few corny jokes. Rob also came precariously close to selling Peppercom to a larger agency in his 24-hour stint as managing partner.

So, what do I hope from becoming Laura Zanzal for a day?

 - a few nitpicks that I can spot and improve for the greater good.
 - a better appreciation for the frenetic lives of our junior people.
 - a definite need for a long, cool beer around 5:30pm on Thursday.

Jul 28

May 21, 2011: Are you ready?

July 28 - harold_camping-2011 I was surfing through Comcast's cavalcade of countless channels the other day when I happened upon Harold Camping and his Family Radio Network.

Oh boy. The guy stopped me in my tracks. Harold Camping is a televangelist with a terrible twist.

Unlike his peers, Harold Camping does not pack a positive punch. Camping is no Joel Osteen with a set of pearly whites to go along with his message of do good and make money in this lifetime. No sir. No way. Not this televangelist. He doesn't have the time.

That's because 88-year-old Harold Camping is laser-focused on the end of days. He's close to the end and he wants to make sure we know we're close to the end of our days as well.

In fact, Harold knows the exact date of his end, and ours: May 21, 2011. Yup, May 21, 2011. Camping's pieced together various Bible passages that, he says, pinpoint May 21, 2011, as the end of the world. He says 5-21-11 is the date when the 'Rapture' will begin.

If I heard him correctly, the Rapture is a period of 155 straight days of nasty, horrible and terrible things that will beset Planet Earth (think: locusts, floods, long-standing PR accounts going up for review, etc.).

Happily, though, Brother Camping and his devoted followers will survive. Nay, thrive. And, when the 155 days are over, Brother Camping & Co. will ascend to Heaven and all the good things that go with it (Christianity's version of Islam's 73 virgins?).

News flash: Brother Camping is the latest in a long line of prophets, fakirs and whatnots who have predicted the end of days. Sane people ignore them. But, the vulnerable do not. And therein lies the issue. Far too many people buy into the end of days mythology and end up selling their worldly possessions (Think: Jonestown, Waco and others). Real people with real problems get badly hurt when a Brother Camping decides it's time to cash in his (and others') chips.

And what happens when the end of days doesn't happen? Well, the Brother Campings of the world just end up blaming others for the apocalypse that wasn't. And the devoted find a new prophet with a new dire prediction.

It's so sad and, in some individual cases, apocalyptic. And, from an image and reputation standpoint, just further tarnishes the overall image and reputation of organized religion.

Jul 27

The comma and those three letters mean nothing to me

Today's guest post is by Ed Moed, RepMan's partner and co-founder of Peppercom, and author of the blog, MeasuringUP

John Smith, APR. Over 5,000 public relations practitioners are Accredited Public Relations professionals who Apr
use this moniker (highlighted in red) after their name and title.
According to the PRSA, APR means that these professionals take a
variety of courses, tests and workshops to ensure that they have the
knowledge, skills and abilities to practice PR effectively in today’s
business arena. My partner recently wrote on his blog that this accreditation isn’t worth a dime in today’s fast shifting marketplace. (I think he actually used the word bogus.) I completely agree.

practitioners wear their APR credential like a badge of honor. I see
this when meeting my peers at networking functions and never really
understood it. OK, I’m sure the path to accreditation offers some value
through understanding important tools to leverage in public relations
programs and by becoming acutely aware of certain set of guidelines
(mostly ethical) that practitioners should follow. But, as my partner
flatly stated, there isn’t an accredited program today that prepares PR
professionals with the instinctual savvy that is so needed to operate
and counsel clients in our new era of social media. Sorry, but APR is
no different.

I decided to conduct a little research to better
understand what practitioners actually learn as they are working to
become accredited. So, I went to the PRSA site. There, I listened to a
variety of Podcasts from accredited folks on the value they derived.
One woman enthusiastically discussed how she excelled at developing
important processes focused on campaign development and implementation.
She talked about the necessity of pre-planning for (as an example)
promotions with everything from proper research of target audiences and
venues to budget criteria. She claims that her accreditation was
critical to mastering this. Great. Awesome.  Except, we have a half a
dozen professionals in our special events/promotions group
(Peppercommotions) who have nothing to do with being APR accredited and
can do this stuff in their sleep. And, they do it really well.

point:  I’ve met hundreds of the most talented PR professionals out
there who aren’t APR accredited. Should they be looked at as being only
partially qualified because of this? On the same note, I’ve had the
fortune of meeting a variety of APR professionals who are really good
at what they do. And, of course, have met a few APR dopes throughout
the years as well.

I have two major problems with accredited
programs like APR in the public relations world. The first is that I
truly believe 90-95 percent of what we do is learned through hands on,
real life experience. A smart young account executive will find the
most talented boss or mentor out there and grow though complete osmosis
(that is watching, discovering and learning everything possible that a
mentor does from client counseling to writing to strategic planning).
While APR can offer great rules of thumb, theories and process tools,
its real value is minimal in our world because everything is so focused
on just getting that experience.

Sorry to be so blunt, but my
second beef with APR is that no one cares. Let me restate that. Of
course, those accredited APR people care. But, outside of that,
clients, prospects, business people, Wall Street, high level
governmental professionals, media, etc., etc., etc… can’t be bothered
with it. And, I know that because no one (and I mean no one) has ever
asked the question to me or my management team– are you APR accredited?

why is that? I think it’s because the main concern is always focused on
what real experience do we have? Based on that experience, how smart
and creative can we be? And, can we deliver on those results we agreed
to based on having done it before for others? I really don’t see APR
playing a key role with any of these needs.

I believe that once
upon a time, our leaders felt it was critical to create real rules and
ethics to live by so that the public relations field would be seen as a
professional, respected industry. That is still important. But, I
question whether APR or any other accredited badge of honor is needed
(and more importantly) can maintain a PR person’s relevance in today’s
incredibly fast changing world.

Jul 24

Useless. Useless.

APR Logo bw I've just received an e-mail from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) encouraging me to sign up for an intensive, four-day APR preparation boot camp.

For the unenlightened, APR is an ersatz credential that has been bandied about for decades as proof positive that one is, indeed, accredited in public relations. I've been reluctant to comment publicly about APR because, frankly, I didn't want to offend some industry leaders who actually believe the APR is meaningful.

But, the time has come to take off the gloves and enter the fray. An APR is worthless. It's never meant anything to any client organization I've ever encountered. Nor has it ever made one iota of difference in considering a prospective employee's strengths and weaknesses.

Created long ago and far away, the APR has always lacked any real teeth and is based on a false assumption: that a PR pro should master rules and regulations in the same way a doctor or lawyer must. But, because PR is an art and not a science, there are no hard and fast rules, regulations, practices, policies or procedures that a public relations professional must study and then prove competence in some sort of 'bar exam.' One earns his or her stripes in PR in one way, and one way only: through the School of Hard Knocks.

The APR is even more irrelevant in today's social media environment in which black has become white, and vice versa. Controlled, top-down, inside-out communication has gone the way of the carrier pigeon. And, no four-day boot camp or three-day written exam is going to help me learn to listen or react any better to the quicksilver changes being made by consumers who now decide with whom they wish to speak, as well as when and where.

I wish Dr. Kevorkian could euthanize this bogus test (and credential) once and for all. In the meantime, I'll continue to associate the APR with the immortal final words of John Wilkes Booth who, having been mortally wounded by pursuing Union soldiers, looked at his hands and uttered, “Useless. Useless.”

Jul 23

Mandals should not be part of a business casual wardrobe

Mandals Mandals should not be part of a business casual wardrobe

I am trying my best to keep today's breakfast where it belongs: slowly winding its way through my large and small intestines. I say 'trying' because the man sitting next to me on the good ol' NJ Transit 7:28 to midtown is sporting mandals. And, it's grossing me out.

Men's feet are disgusting. Period. They do not deserve to see the light of day in a work setting. And, yes, the 7:28 to New York is a work setting.

This commuter is otherwise beautifully attired, though. He's sporting a mauve polo shirt. (I love the word 'mauve.' Who comes up with a word like mauve in the first place?)

“Hey Isaiah, that's not purple. But, it's not red either. What the hell?”
“Easy, Esau. I know. We'll call it mauve!”

Anyway, back to mandals. The guy's mauve shirt is beautifully accented by sharply-pressed khaki pants and an obviously well-cared for Coach leather briefcase. So, why mar an otherwise natty ensemble by putting the dogs on display? Why are this obviously well-heeled guy's ragged toenails and hairy toes front and center? Sorry. But, it's beyond being just wrong. It's heinous.

During the dotcom days, Peppercom's workplace was befouled by not one, but two, mandal-wearing employees. We mercilessly pilloried the more senior of the two at our regular management meetings and he sheepishly discarded what I called his Yasser Arafat-branded mandals. (They had a certain Palestine Liberation Organization look to them.)

But, the other offender reveled in his flip-flops and wore them rain or shine. They beautifully accented his laid-back, tropic shirts, torn blue jeans, and overall Jimmy Buffet approach to life, ladies and work. I did everything I could to raise the inappropriate dress code awareness level, even awarding him 'Best Male Feet of the Month' at a regular staff meeting. But, nothing worked, save winter weather.

Happily, the mandal-sporting staffer solved the problem for us by deciding to pack up and head South (presumably for year-round mandal wearing weather conditions.) With his departure, life returned to normal. Male toes were tucked back inside shoes and regular business could be transacted without nausea or vomiting.

I'd really hoped mandals had become a vestige of the dotcom era and, like mullets, jump suits and suspenders before them, had been placed on the 'men should not be caught dead wearing these things in the office' fashion scrap pile. But, apparently not.

As a result, I'm thinking of bribing one of the brain-dead train conductors and asking him to make the following announcement:

“NJ Transit apologizes for yet another interminable delay this morning. We do appreciate your patience but, hey, after so many of these delays, you should be used to it. We'd also like to remind passengers not to place their feet on the seats. This applies in particular to those moronic male passengers who are grossing out their fellow travelers by sporting mandals. Get those dogs off my seats now! Thank you once again for riding New Jersey Transit. Have a pleasant day and be sure to bring shoes and socks if you'd like to ride with us in the future."

Guys: do us all a favor. Save the mandals for the beach.

Jul 22

Blissfully unaware (and loving it!)

Mets tomb I'm enjoying a whole, new level of serenity.

It has nothing to do with mountain climbing or winning new business in the midst of economic chaos. Nor is it the result of transcendental meditation, holistic healing or some other form of New Age mumbo jumbo. Nonetheless, I've been floating on sunshine for, oh, about the last three weeks or so.

So, what's my secret? It's simple. I've given up completely on the New York Mets. In seasons' past, I'd allow the Mets to ruin my mood, destroy an otherwise pleasant Sunday or, when they really went south, turn my late summer into a veritable holocaust.

Not this year, though. I quit as soon as the team did. (Memorial Day, if memory serves.) Since then, I haven't listened to their games on radio or TV, and made sure I avoided the morning after recaps of their latest meltdown.

'Not Caring About the Mets' should be captured by a leading pharmaceutical company and squeezed into a capsule. It's got more anti-anxiety and sleep-enhancing qualities than any combination of Xanax and Ambien could hope to provide…

Announcer: “That's right, 'Not Caring About the Mets' is now available from your doctor in liquid, gel or capsule form and will help you get through the toughest day (and night.) Possible side effects include twitching leg syndrome, shallow breathing, stroke, suicide, enhanced libido, decreased libido (hey, it's the Mets!), blurred vision, loss of arm strength in your legs and loss of one or more toes. Alcohol and use of meth amphetamines may enhance the effects.”

I like my new 'serenity now' approach to life so much that I'm ready to adapt it to the upcoming New York Jets football season. Like the Mets, the Jets are perennial losers who torture their fans with sporadic bursts of excellence before succumbing to an inevitable late-season collapse.

Yes, Virginia, hand me a few Jets' losses in early September and I'll be sure to tune out and turn on to the natural high of blissful ignorance. And, as Agent Maxwell Smart used to say, “And, loving it!”

Jul 21

Today’s hero is often tomorrow’s road kill

Discarded-old-computer-1 I tossed on an old t-shirt before heading out for my five-mile run Sunday morning. It wasn’t until I’d come back and taken it off, though, that I noticed the writing. It featured the slogan of a long gone Web 1.0 client. This wasn’t just any Web 1.0 company. It was the first-to-market in its field. Remember first mover status? Ooooh. It was soooo important.

Anyway, this dotcom had raised millions of dollars from top venture capital firms and its Israeli-led management team believed they walked on water. I remember their unbelievable hubris when they’d descend on our office. When not brow-beating our account team in the conference room, they’d stroll up and down our hallways screaming into their cell phones at some administrative type or banker on the other end. And we permitted it because, well, these were dotcom gods, that’s why. I think they went belly-up in 2002.

I remember another Web 1.0 CEO and his henchwoman who thought they, too, walked on water. Their business model had something to do with being on the edge of the Web and, like the Israelis, they were first-to-market with their business model. They’d raised tons of money, hired hundreds of people and demanded that our account team work 24×7 just like they did. I still remember their ‘coming out’ party at Lotus. It was a ‘must attend’ event for anyone who was anyone in what used to be called Silicon Alley. I also remember the CEO acting like some sultan from “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights”and holding court in a back room. That company imploded two or three months later.

I also recall a gaming company whose head of public relations had the foulest mouth this side of a Bayonne longshoreman. She, too, thought she walked on water and regularly browbeat our team. I think the worst moment came when an industry trade publication named her ‘Young PR Professional of the Year.’ I remember thinking at the time that either some judge hadn’t done her homework or the industry was now including verbal abuse as a key component of the successful, young PR pro. Happily, it turned out to be the former and this horror show and her firm soon disappeared from the Web 1.0 landscape.

I bring all this up because I’ve noticed more and more hubris of late from Web 2.0 CEOs and their in-house marketing communications types. Hopefully, what I’m seeing is an exception to the norm. Even if it’s not, I’m sure I’ll be running one day soon in a  t-shirt from a company that went very quickly from being today’s hero to tomorrow’s road kill. That’s because there seems to be a direct correlation between short-term abuse and long-term failure.