Dec 10

I Love the Situation…

Guest Post by Andrew Stein, Peppercom

December 10 - jerseyAB So the talk of the town since last Thursday night has been MTV’s new reality show “Jersey Shore.” Along the same lines as the famed series the “Real World,” this show puts eight self-proclaimed “Guidos” into a share house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, for a summer of debauchery and is there to film all the drunken missteps, fights and overall stupidity that ensues. As someone that grew up in Toms River, just a stone’s throw across the bridge from lovely Seaside Heights, I have a soft spot for the content of the show and must say I couldn’t be happier after watching the two-hour premiere.

However, there seem to be larger issues at hand than just my shear enjoyment of this train wreck. Many Italian-Americans throughout the country have expressed their distaste for the show and for MTV, saying it is offensive and portrays Italian-Americans in a false and negative light.

Now as someone that has taken more than my fair share of vodka shots in these local drinking establishments, I can promise you that the characters on this show are not acting. While I’m sure they’re showing off a bit for the cameras (put a shirt on fellas), I have seen a whole lot of “Guidos” in action behaving just like these clowns. So while MTV may be exploiting this particular sect of Italian-Americans, how can you really blame them? These people are willing to make total arses of themselves on national television, which is gold for any reality TV franchise. Unfortunately for Italian-Americans, scientists and CEOs don’t make for gut-wrenching channel surfing. These morons do.

So should Italian-Americans be upset with MTV? Personally, I can’t tell someone whether they should be offended by something or not, particularly when I’m not part of the minority in question. However, these people on the show are glorifying “guido” culture on their own; MTV is just serving as the medium for them to share it with the world. I can understand Italian-Americans being upset with the people that act this way because they reflect negatively on their culture. However, why is that MTV’s responsibility?  They’re in the business of making money through bad TV and this particular show happens to be a jackpot.

Most of what I’ve heard and read from the offended seems to blame MTV for falsely portraying Italian-Americans. As someone that grew up around these people, the idiocy and embarrassing behavior is accurate and MTV just happens to be smart enough to film it for profit. I can totally understand why Italian-Americans may be unhappy being associated with these people, I just don’t see why that is MTV’s fault. The fact is, “Guido” culture exists with or without MTV. While the cable network may be exposing it to the rest of the country that may not have the pleasure of seeing it on a regular basis, they certainly did not create it and, in my opinion, are not irresponsibly embellishing it.

Dec 09

And the walls come crumbling down

Birds do it. Bees do it. Trade publications most certainly do it. In this case, 'it' is blurring the lines between editorial and advertising.

December 9 - the_dallas_morning_news_logo_2 Recently, the Dallas Morning News announced that some editors have started reporting directly to executives outside the newsroom who control advertising sales. Ouch. So much for the separation of church and state.

The initial reassignments are limited to sports and entertainment. But, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. And, the implications are grave to the Fourth Estate.

Bob Mong, the editor of the Morning News, said reporters had been urged to '….fight back if they were told to do anything unethical.' Good luck with that one. The paper's management has clearly opened a veritable Pandora's Box that will never again close.

In today's brutal economy, it's all about the almighty dollar. With traditional journalism imploding on all fronts, it was only a matter of time before a major news organization put advertising/sales in charge of editorial. And, once that happens, any semblance of true, unbiased objectivity disappears.

Trade magazines have routinely blurred the lines between advertising and editorial. I can remember countless calls from a certain monthly publication's editor who told me Peppercom would be featured in an upcoming issue and a full-page ad would only further enhance its impact. I laughed, and said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'

These are sad and worrying times for society in general, and journalism in particular. I'm frankly surprised the Dallas Morning News went virtually unreported in the PR trades. It's a seminal event that, if it becomes a trend, will have a cataclysmic impact on how we, as communicators, function.

Dec 08

Closing the gap between marketing and sales

Guest Post by Deborah Brown, Peppercom

December 8 - gap Years ago, I remember the marking manager of a client desperately ask, “Can Peppercom please help us? I don’t know how to get marketing and sales aligned. There’s virtually no communication and sales is off saying what they want to customers, while marketing is trying to instill consistency with our messages.  What do we do?” Several weeks later, with a sales consultant, Peppercom developed “Pain –Based Selling,” a program that aligns marketing and sales and closes the gap between what salespeople believe is keeping their customers up at night and what actually is. And, about a year later, co-founder Steve Cody co-authored a book on the topic entitled “What’s Keeping Your Customers Up At Night?”

Now, fast forward about seven years. And, guess what? Sadly, very little has changed. To be fair, there is some alignment in certain companies, but from my experience, it’s still very limited or – in other companies – doesn’t even exist. It seems absurd when the two disciplines can greatly benefit from one another. At Peppercom, we try to go on sales calls with clients so that we can understand how messages are resonating with key audiences and get feedback from customers and prospects. Even this is often challenging to schedule. Yet, when we do go on sales calls, we can immediately uncover important information that can further strengthen existing marketing and communications programs or give us ideas for future ones.

I’d like to pose this question to you:  Can your company survive if sales and marketing are on different teams? 

That’s the focus of a FREE webinar from Peppercom this Wednesday, December 9th , from 1pm-2pm EST.  “Coach Nick” Papadopoulos, Sky’s The Limit Corporation Founder and author of the sales book “Championship Selling,” Steve Cody, Co-Founder of strategic communications firm Peppercom, and Matt Schwartzberg, President of A-1 First Class Viking Moving & Storage will discuss this question and the formula for success in 2010. The panel will be moderated by Sam Ford, Peppercom’s Direct of Customer Insights and research affiliate with the Convergence Culture Consortium. The panel will discuss proven strategies for breaking down the walls, how to take advantage of the first signs of economic recovery, the difference alignment has made for A-1 First Class Viking Moving & Storage, and much more.

Please click here for more details.

It’s critical for marketing and sales to understand each others' role and value. Bridge the gap….before it’s so wide that your company falls through it into oblivion.

Dec 07

Does breaking news sponsorship put steak’s image at stake?

I receive an RSS feed from CNN Breaking News. So, throughout the day, I'm peppered with incoming news items that range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

December 7 Lately, I've noticed that Omaha Steaks has been running a special 66 percent promotion along the bottom of each news feed.

I let it pass once or twice but, then, after reading a CNN Breaking News about 40 people being killed in Pakistan, I came to a complete standstill.

What 23-year-old media-buying genius decided to sponsor a breaking news feed on Omaha Steak's behalf? What's the logic? How does one equate whatever the news of the moment is to ordering steaks? '…..Hey honey, check it out! At least 40 people were just killed by an explosion in Pakistan! Let's buy some steak online.'

It got me wondering: Did CNN Breaking News coverage of the balloon boy's epic non-adventure produce a sudden spike in orders of petite filet mignon? Or, maybe Tiger's recent mishaps prompted readers to order some extra rare New York strip steak.

This is one media buy that totally belies logic. If I were Omaha Steak's chief marketing officer, I'd think twice about running a special promotion alongside a newsfeed that broadcasts bulletins about mass murders, natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

I've heard of 'feeding the media beast,' but this is one brand that should find a better location for its online ad spend. Having said that, I must admit that last week's RSS feed announcing Obama's 30,000 Afghanistan troop surge made me pine for a juicy prime rib.

Dec 04

My top 10 places to avoid list

What happens when a tourist destination's image and reputation doesn't mesh with one's actual experience? Disappointment with a capital D.

Having just visited Scotland, and been disappointed by one of its best-known attractions, I thought I'd compile RepMan's Top 10 places to avoid list:

December 4 - loch-ness1 1.) Loch Ness, Scotland. There are many other lochs with far more to do and see than this one. Nessie's a no-go. Instead, head northwest to the Isle of Skye. In fact, the latter would lead my top 10 best places to see list.

2) Blarney Castle, Ireland. It takes forever to get to and, once there, you pay to forage around what is little more than a damp dump of rubble. And, the Blarney Stone itself is a small hunk of rock that I wouldn't kiss for all the potatoes in Ireland.

3) The Ring of Kerry, Ireland. Billed as a magical journey around the Emerald Isle the ring ride is, instead, a long, boring tour with little, if anything, of real interest to see or experience. Stick with Dublin. It's awesome.

December 4 - couples-in-love-at-disney-world-760376 4) Disneyworld, Disneyland and anything associated with Disney. If you're looking for the worst possible cost-benefit ratio, then these theme parks are your ticket (literally). Endless lines, massive hype and outrageous a la carte pricing make the Mouse more of a rat.

5) A Norwegian cruise. Call it a Norwegian snooze instead. If you've seen one fjord, you've seen them all. Opt for an Alaskan cruise instead. You'll love it.

6) The London Eye. Another over-hyped tourist trap, the Eye is nothing more than a big Ferris Wheel that stops every five minutes or so and provides views of the city. Big bloody deal. Don't waste your time or money. Opt for the Jack the Ripper walking tour instead. It kills.

7) Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C. I adore everything about Charleston. But, the fabled Civil War fort is a must-miss. Avoid the long ferry ride to see a mass of rocks and ruins and, instead, visit one of the working history plantations like Middleton. They're spellbinding and the nearest thing to time travel I've yet found.

December 4 - 30rock_kenneth 8) The NBC Studio Tour, NY, NY. The admission price is outrageous, the tour is underwhelming and you see little and learn even less about the fabled network. A Circle Line cruise around the island is still the best Big Apple experience in this blogger's opinion. 

9) The Eiffel Tower. Sorry mes amis, but I found the long lines and overall experience less than formidable. Sitting at the Cafe de le Paix, sipping wine and people watching is a better alternative.

10) Berlin. I'm not sure what I expected, but as a huge history buff, I was very disappointed with the ultra modern destination. Aside from the Brandenburg Gate, there's really nothing to do or see (except for Checkpoint Charlie, which is way cool).

I wanted to end my Top 10 places to avoid list with a special honorable mention for the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Site in St. Augustine, Fla. It's a five-and-dime version of Disneyworld with a few, trashy 'rides' that look as if they haven't been updated since Ponce himself first visited in the early 16th century.

How about you? Do you have over-hyped destinations that should be added to the list? Or, do you take exception with what I've said about one or more sites? Speak up. The plane's doors are about to close.

Dec 03

Eye on the Tiger

Guest post by Lia LoBello, Peppercom

December 3 - tiger-woods Like many Americans, I woke up Friday, November 28 basking in a post-Turkey Day glow. I wanted nothing more than the simple pleasure of flipping on the TV and enjoying the sweet sound of a billion reporters screaming about Black Friday shopping lines.

I was denied. Instead, the media was beside itself, breathlessly reporting that Tiger Woods had crashed his car into a fire hydrant and a tree on his own property “This is not news,” I cried to my family. “Who cares about this?” My dad, as big a golf enthusiast as they come, simply shrugged. Little did I know, it was only the tip of the iceberg.

The media cared plenty. The reporting continued, largely unsubstantiated, for five solid days until Tiger released a statement on Wednesday, December 2, apologizing for his “transgressions.” His carefully worded statement neither confirmed nor denied a reported affair – supposedly the cause of a fight between Tiger and his wife causing him to flee his home and crash – and instead, asked for privacy.

In the days leading up to the statement, I found myself trying to answer the million dollar question for public relations professionals watching this episode unfold – did Tiger wait too long to talk? I say no. 

By not indulging the media feeding frenzy desperately searching for a fact amidst heaps of speculation, Tiger exposed the 24/7 media cycle for what it is – a shoot first, substantiate later circus that disregards objectivity in favor of ratings and which reports rumors carefully couched as to appear real.

“Will sponsors stand behind him?” they begged to know. “Will fans ever forgive him?” The answer, and no surprise here, appears to be yes.

Reading through the comments on TigerWoods.com, numbering more than 9,000 by late Wednesday night, a relatively mixed bag of benign “We’re behind you!” and “How could you do this?” comments exist. And according to Zeta Interactive via the Wall Street Journal, Tiger's online positive approval rating dipped 23 percentage points to 71 percent. With all due respect to Zeta Interactive – those metrics mean nothing to the average American and further, are higher than the current presidential approval rating. Additionally, Nike, Gatorade and EA Sports all released statements saying their relationship with Tiger was unaffected.

Thanks to a previously spotless reputation and the exaggerated reaction of media, I think Tiger’s fans will quickly forgive and forget his “sins.” What we shouldn’t be so quick to forgive is the media’s inundating of our "news" with pointless discussion and debate about a celebrity’s possible dirty laundry. To think of how we could all benefit if the same effort was employed for actual news – say the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the recent New York Senate gay marriage ban or healthcare. Perhaps we should start asking our Senators and soldiers to get handy with a five iron.

Dec 02

When publicists need a publicist

Guest Post by Lauren Begley, Peppercom

Aliwise This past July, publicist Ali Wise was accused of hacking into the voicemail system of her ex’s new girlfriend. Despite these charges and the unflattering light that is now cast on her personal and professional life (her employer Dolce & Gabbana gave her the boot), Wise has refused to step out of the spotlight.

Just last week, she was spotted at multiple fashion events in Manhattan and while she’s keeping mum about the legalities of the situation, it hasn’t stopped her from commenting on her possible jump into reality TV. More recently, this trained public relations professional hired her own publicist—none other than Matthew Hiltzik, who has previously done damage control for Jane Friedman, Don Imus and Annie Leibovitz.

And so we have another front page (or maybe Page 6) story about a publicist gone bad, adding fuel to the fire created by shows like MTV’s PoweR Girls, which depicts young, beautiful women in big cities planning parties, hanging out with celebrities and creating a ‘buzz’ by any means possible.

Even more absurd, a recent story line on Gossip Girl depicted Manhattanite Serena Van Der Woodsen receiving a job offer to work for a publicist based solely on her ability to attract paparazzi—with complete disregard for the fact that her character has no college education and zip work experience.

Could this be why PR is still considered a “dirty word” in some circles, or why the general consensus is that “publicity” is managed by the cliché “PR girls” featured on these programs? I’ve experienced it personally, even in casual conversation with friends and acquaintances. Based on the questions I’ve been asked about my job (“Which celebrities do you represent?” “Don’t you just spin the truth?” “Do you get free stuff from companies like [enter luxury brand]?”). I’m certain that many people outside of the field think of PR as party planning and creating buzz at any cost—a no-brain job for cute girls who photograph well.

I got into the field of public relations for many reasons. I love writing and thinking creatively. I enjoy problem solving and working with teams. I have a vested interest in connecting relevant groups of people, particularly through social media. But these elements of the job are often lost amidst the image and reputation exuded by episodes of PoweR Girls and headlines featuring the likes of Ms. Wise.

So what can we do? We need to be proactive advocates for our profession. We need to value and recognize those female innovators in our field who embody out-of-the-box thinking, sound business ethics and determination to move the profession forward. Only then can we shake the “PR girls” image.

Dec 01

Beasting it in the bothy

My trusty sidekick Chris 'Repman Jr.' and I have been hiking and climbing Scotland's breathtakingly beautiful Isle of Skye this week.

December 1 - motoring in isle of skye
The chamber of commerce weather has been picture perfect (bright sunshine and daytime temperatures right around freezing). But, come nighttime, which at this latitude begins at about 3:30 p.m., duck and cover. The winds begin howling and the temperatures drop faster than the NY Jets winning percentage.

Our resolute guide, Peter Khambatta suggested we stay several nights in a bothy in order to fully experience a Scottish highlands trek. My goodness. Talk about a trip back in time. The bothy in which we slept is a small, compact stone hut with four tiny sleeping rooms and one fireplace. There is no running water, heat or electricity. One sleeps on the floor in one's sleeping bag, collects firewood along the beach and cooks a spare dinner around 6 p.m. (which feels like midnight since its been dark for so long). And, when nature calls at about 2 a.m., one braves the sub-zero wind chills to accomplish the task at hand.

December 1 - 192493074_a8dac6e02c
After dinner and conversation, we did what people did for centuries prior to the invention of all our modern conveniences: we piled on layers of clothes, snuggled inside sleeping bags and hunkered down to snooze (which, after six hours of arduous climbing came rather easily).

I cannot tell you how much the bothy enhanced the overall experience. It was so austere, so remote and so unforgiving that I half expected to see a Viking war ship turn the corner near the Isle of Rum across the Irish Sea and begin heading our way. But, the bothy was also way cool in a manner that defies this blogger's best attempts to describe it.

Trips that test endurance and everyday niceties accomplish two things for me: they totally refresh my mind (i.e. does losing an account really matter in the grand scheme of things?) and, second, it further increases my admiration and respect for the hardiness of those who came before us.

That said, I'm looking forward to returning to all the creature comforts and mindless entertainment that America can provide.