Mar 15

Good afternoon. The Patience of Job PR. How may I direct your call?

March 15 The biblical figure Job would be ideally equipped to lead a public relations firm in today's harsh economic environment. Having been severely tested by countless challenges from God himself, Job would no doubt breeze through such 2010 realities as:

– The endless agency search. We're still involved in an 'active' search that began last October and shows no signs of culminating any time soon. Job wouldn't mind.
– The casting call. Job's patience and perseverance would quickly set him and his firm apart in prospect cattle calls that often include eight to 10 agencies and, sometimes, in the case of Wikipedia, an even 100 (there's something biblical about that).
– The false prophet. Job's keen senses would enable him to detect insincerity by client and prospect alike. He'd recognize that the newly-hired client CMO has no intention of maintaining the existing relationship and that her request for new thinking is nothing more than a thinly-disguised search for ideas her new firm can subsequently implement.
– The money changers. Job would take a holy man's POV to a discussion with those parsimonious client procurement types. For every inch Job gave, he's know a way to exact a yard in exchange (or, would it be a cubit in exchange?).

Yes, Job was built for 2010, not 3300 BC. That said, I wondered how some of his biblical brethren would fare in today's rough-and-tumble PR world:

– David would undoubtedly run his own start-up, defeat countless Philistines in big new business pitches, but eventually be acquired by a giant such as WPP.
– Esau would do whatever it takes to win business, step on people, back stab, etc., to achieve enormous initial success. Then, he'd just as quickly fade into oblivion as the industry wised up to his tactics (PR has had more than one Esau).
– Adam and Eve PR would be a veritable paradise in which to work until, alas, Eve made a pact to represent the client from hell. The client's moral, ethical and business lapses would drive it, along with Adam and Eve, from paradise.
– Jonah would be clueless. Anyone who can be swallowed by a whale wouldn't last very long in PR's turbulent waters. Having found himself spit out by PR, Jonah would no doubt end up in one of our cottage industries, say, arranging satellite media tours.
– Samson's firm wouldn't last long either, falling prey to the first siren call of a large and abusive client such as Delilah's. As for the latter, I'm pretty sure she doubled as the number two client at a Fortune 10 corporation we used to represent.

But, back to The Patience of Job PR. Job & Co., have the built-in DNA to deal with the absurdity of the current client-agency landscape. His firm would not only outlast the endless delays and uncertainties, they'd wear down clients with their niceness. My prediction: The Patience of Job will be named PR Week's 2010 Agency of the Year. And, they'll have done it without being positioned as the conflict agency of a larger firm or aided by infrastructure support from a holding company. Not Job. He and his cohorts have the patience to do just fine on their own.

Mar 12

Hold the phone! Millennials aren’t into the warm and fuzzy stuff after all

March 12 - millennials_logo I wish I had a dollar for every research report I’ve read telling me that Millennials (born between 1982 and 1999) want to work for companies that contribute to the greater good and hold jobs that help make the world a better place to live. Not so, says a just-released survey of work attitudes from San Diego State University.

SDSU’s Jean Twenge says her SDSU team analyzed the findings of a periodic study of 16,500 high school seniors that has been conducted periodically since 1978. Her analysis shows that Millennials were ‘….no more likely to want to help others and society through their work than other generations. The assumption that (Millennials) care about volunteerism and social issues has spurred many companies to let workers volunteer on company time as a way to attract this generation.’ And, that’s a mistake, she says.

But, wait, it gets even worse for Millennials. Not only don’t they care about societal ills as much as we were led to believe, they’re also a lot more high maintenance than either Boomers (born between 1946 and ’64)  or Gen X workers (1965-’81). According to Twenge, Millennials want more free time, higher salaries and greater status than their older peers. So, says Twenge, the average Millennial ‘…seems to want to have their cake and eat it too. That is, they want high pay and status but aren’t interested in burning the midnight oil.’

Now, before my own employees lynch me, I want to go on record by saying that I’ve met and worked with hundreds of highly motivated, hard-working Millennials who are passionate about their work, burn the midnight oil and do care about the greater society.

That said, the SDSU research is a real eye opener and, if valid, should be passed around the offices of Fortune, The Reputation Institute, Working Woman and other media properties that measure and list America’s ‘most admired’ corporations. If what Twenge says is true, then organizations are wasting untold time and money providing perks that simply don’t matter to the majority of Millennials. And, that’s a game changer if I’ve ever heard one.

Now I’m going to grab my hard hat and flak jacket. Let the postings barrage begin.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea behind this post.

Mar 11

Toyota: The Road to Brand Reputation Recovery

Toyota’s reputation has been placed under the microscope over the past few months in light of recent safety issues. This installment of RepChatter features a discussion with Benjamin M. Cole, an assistant professor of management at Fordham. Professor Cole. Cole is a corporate strategy and international business expert and worked for Toyota in Tokyo as a corporate representative. Check out this installment of RepChatter for a “behind the scenes” perspective on various aspects of Toyota’s corporate culture and how it drives the company’s behavior.

 

Mar 11

Is Steve Carell the Willie Mays of sitcoms?

March 11 What do such legendary TV sitcoms as MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Seinfeld have in common? They all ceased production while the shows were still at their absolute creative best. The directors, writers and cast members all knew when to say when.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Steve Carell, who plays Michael Scott in NBC's legendary sitcom, The Office. Why? Because Carell & Co. have signed on for yet another season.

And, while it may make sense financially, it makes no sense from an image a reputation standpoint.

The Office peaked well before the Jim and Pam wedding episode. It's now devolved into a silly, smarmy love fest of nonsense that bears little resemblance to the show's original premise. In fact, it's become little more than a showcase for the individual characters to display their singing and dancing talents (or, lack thereof). In a word, The Office has gone from riveting to revolting.

Why do so many people in so many fields not know when to say when? To wit:

– For every Sandy Koufax (who quit at his absolute peak), there's a Willie Mays (who, at 40 something years of age, badly embarrassed himself in the 1973 World Series)
– For every Jerry Seinfeld there's a Lucille Ball (who continued making dreadful sitcoms long after 'I Love Lucy' had ended)
– For every Greta Garbo there's a Nicholas Cage (who continues to tarnish his once serious stature by starring in an endless string of B movies)
– For every Bill Gates (who now busies himself with his foundation) there's a septuagenarian such as Bob Lutz (who keeps re-appearing in some sort of GM managerial position despite his highly-publicized crankiness) 

I see it in my own business. I belong to a number of trade organizations populated by elder statesmen who are clearly past their prime. Yet these giants of yesteryear still feel compelled to weigh in on issues where they no longer have any direct or relevant experience. Why not go gently into the night?

I'd like to think I'll know when to say when. And, if I don't, I'm hoping a close friend will have the courage to point it out to me. That's what Steve Carell needs right now: a close friend with the guts to say, 'Steve. Bubala. It's time to let go and move on. You don't want to be remembered as the Willie Mays of TV sitcoms, do you?’

Mar 10

There’s J. Paul Getty. And, then, there’s the rest of us

March 10 When the late, multimillionaire oil magnate, J. Paul Getty, was asked his secret for success, he responded by saying, 'My formula for success: Rise early. Work hard. Strike oil.'

Striking oil is a sure-fire ticket to a life of fame and fortune. For the rest of us, though, the rising early and working hard parts are the answer.

I thought of Getty's tongue-in-cheek remark as I networked with a group of College of Charleston students visiting New York the other day. Along with 25 or 30 other PR, media, branding and public affairs executives, I have the pleasure of serving on the college's communications advisory board. Aside from branding and marketing advice, our charge is to mentor the students.

The board members attending Monday night's networking event were swarmed by the eager, if somewhat desperate, students. Each had more or less the same set of questions: 'What sort of qualities are you looking for?' 'How can I set myself apart?' and 'What does an entry-level PR person do?' In response to the latter, I assured the students that entry-level life is nothing like the plight of poor Stephanie Skinner, the junior account executive punching bag in Bravo's reality show called 'Kell on Earth.' I somehow doubt The People's Revolution (the fashion PR agency spotlighted in the show) will find it way onto The Holmes Report's best workplaces list anytime soon.

That said, I suggested the students hold their questions and, instead, ask them of Peppercom's junior people when they visit our offices today (the students will also pay visits to the offices of MTV, Computer Associates, Edelman, Ketchum and Deloitte).

Aside from striking oil or getting your parents to pay for your internship, there is no easy path to finding work in public relations.

One has to do one's homework before an interview, be conversant with industry trends, and explain not only what was learned from previous internships but, critically, how one went above and beyond the call of duty to complete an assignment. The latter is huge. Demonstrate passion, a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to do more than what is expected and you'll build rapport with the interviewer. That doesn't mean you'll receive a job offer, though. There may be many more rounds of interviews, other candidates who are just as good as you and the intangibles of timing (the agency or corporation may have just lost a large account and instituted a hiring freeze).

These are the times that try graduating seniors' souls. Some will succeed in landing that dream entry-level job. Most won't. My only advice to those who won't is this: pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. And again. And again.

Or, strike oil.

Mar 09

I’ll take a 9mm Glock to go with my espresso, please

March 9 I've never been a fan of the bitter-tasting, over-priced Starbucks brand of coffee. I like their store layouts and soothing jazz music, but I've never bought into the whole 'barista' scene. I'm a Dunkin' Donuts kind of guy. Just the facts, ma’am.

So, Starbucks’ most recent move has really left a bitter taste in my mouth: they're allowing gun-toting customers to open display their six guns in stores. Talk about sending mixed messages.

Here's a brand that always projected a warm-and-friendly 'let's save the environment, we're all in this together' mantra that has suddenly re-positioned its stores as potential stage sets for recreating the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. What are Howard Schultz & Company thinking?

In defending their decision, Starbucks issued a typical corporate cop-out of a statement, saying: 'The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in legislatures and courts, not in our stores.' What malarky, as we bloggers of mixed Irish descent are won’t to say.

If Starbucks is willing to allow its customers to openly brandish weapons, why not go full bore and transform the entire customer experience? Stores should be remodeled to look like Old West saloons replete with those cool swinging doors. And, instead of smooth jazz, stores could play such ditties as:

– I Shot the Sheriff (Bob Marley version, please)
– Johnny Got His Gun
– The sound tracks from 'Full Metal Jacket,' 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Platoon'
– The Battle Hymn of the Republic
– A mix of gansta rap, Aryan martial music and any country song that includes lyrics about shooting dead some cheatin' S.O.B.

Baristas should be trained to greet pistol-packing customers with a new welcoming, 'Howdy partner. Is that a .45 millimeter Colt in your holster or are you just happy to see me?'

Maybe the brand name itself should change to reflect the coffee chain's new Wild West mind set? How does Warbucks strike you? Wild Bill Starbucks? I've got it: CSI:Starbucks. Now, there's a name that both reflects reality and is aspirational. And, that, my friends, is a brand experience home run (or should I say bull's eye?).

Mar 08

Telling it like it is

March 8 The legendary ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell was famous for an oft-repeated, self-congratulatory description of his coverage. 'I'm just telling like it is,' he'd brag. And, he did just that.

Cosell's signature line comes to mind each week as I scour the various advertising and PR trade publications for the latest news, trends and happenings. As a Cosell devotee, I gravitate toward those media I believe are actually telling it like it is.

Advertising Age is the best in the business when it comes to balanced reporting. Their journalists aren't afraid of shining a glaring spotlight on the industry's good, bad and ugly. In the past few issues alone, they've outed serial marketers such as 1-800-Flowers and Chipotle while positively skewering DDB for clinging to an outdated business model that hasn't kept pace with the times. I admire the fact that Ad Age doesn't mince words. I trust the editorial content.

Adweek has done the best job of reporting the murkiness that is marketing communications in 2010. They've repeatedly covered the rise of PR, decline of traditional advertising and free-for-all melee every type of agency is embroiled in as we grapple for 'owning the idea' and the lion's share of the client's budget. Adweek even named Edelman as its PR agency of the year. That's never happened before (and is an awesome thing for Edelman in particular and PR in general).

PR Week's new approach is a vast improvement. The editorial dives deep into the world of corporate and marketing communications, and really tells me what's keeping my clients and prospects up at night. They've also started to attack shoddy corporate campaigns such as Ann Taylor. But, unlike its advertising brethren, PR Week is loathe to really take off the gloves. Their cover story profiles remind me of my old Catholic school days spent reading 'The Lives of the Saints.' PR Week also overlooks what's new in advertising and digital, which is unfortunate. I'd love a sole source that focuses on my profession, but tells me what I need to know about sister disciplines.

That said, PR Week has no competitors in our industry. Some, like PR News, fill a nice niche with their 'how to' content. Others, like Bulldog Reporter, add lots of valuable insight through webinars. I also turn to Bulldog for my daily news brief and a snapshot of what other PR bloggers are writing.

Public relations deserves a go-to journal that mixes the hard-hitting, damn the torpedoes approach of Ad Age and the diversity of Adweek. It's time our industry had its own Howard Cosell that tells it like it is.

Mar 04

It’s Greek to me

MARCH 4 - KID Diversity wasn’t cool in the small town where I grew up. In fact, it was frowned upon. In the late 1960s, Ridgefield Park, NJ, was comprised almost exclusively of Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans. So, if one’s surname wasn’t Murtaugh, Monihan, Gandolfo or Gadaleta, one was considered an outsider. It was no accident that the words image, Italian and Irish all begin with the same letter. They were intrinsically linked in my old hometown.

As a Cody, I was assumed to be Irish. So, I was considered ‘OK.’ But, that was only half true. My mom’s family hailed from County Clare, Ireland. But, my dad had told us his side of the family was Greek. And, since it was neither Irish nor Italian, Greek was not a good thing to be in the Ridgefield Park of the late 1960s. So, I obfuscated. I laid low. I nodded my head when peers would say, ‘Cody’s ok. He’s Irish like us.’

And, then, the times changed and I forgot all about the whole Greek thing. That was, up until about 10 years ago when my mom put on a Deerstalker hat and decided to do some family sleuthing. She went to her local library, delved into my dad’s murky family history and broke the news that we weren’t Greek after all. As best as she could tell, my mom believed my dad’s family was either Polish or Russian. As the prototypical Archie Bunker-type, my dad wasn’t thrilled with the Polish angle and opted, instead, to begin tell friends and family alike he was Russian. I enjoyed the slowly unfolding drama and, as America became more diverse, so, too, did my ancestral roots. I’d tell anyone who would listen that I was 50 percent Irish and 50 percent goulash. And, that’s the way things stayed until last week when my cousin, Lynn, went to one of those ancestry sites and, lo and behold, hit family pay dirt.

It turns out that my grandfather was born in Galipoli, Turkey (btw, there’s a great Mel Gibson movie by the same name) and my grandmother hails from the oft-contested Galicia region of Austria. So, deep into middle life, I’ve finally discovered my roots: I’m 50 percent Irish, 25 percent Austrian and 25 percent Turkish. And, I am so embracing my newfound personal diversity.

All that said, my gut tells me I still would have been tarred and feathered in my old home town if I’d started boasting about either Viennese sausage or Turkish coffee. Those Murtaugh kids were one tough bunch.

Mar 03

Introverts, Inc.

March 3 - Meg_introvert What do PR Week’s Aarti Shah, Ogilvy’s Dushka Zapata and this blogger have in common? We’re all introverts making a go of it in professions dominated by extroverts.

Aarti outs her introverted self in a current editorial. Dushka did the same in a recent blog. Aarti congratulates Dushka for coming out of the closet by saying, ‘…several other PR pros have confided to her (Dushka) that they are also introverts, but that they don’t want to admit this publicly for fear of being misjudged.’ As a lifelong introvert, I find the comment amusing, if not alarming.

Being extroverted has never been a prerequisite to success in my business. I’m all about listening to the client, the reporter or the peer and then engaging in a mutually beneficial conversation. Extroverts can easily go over the line and become too aggressive, too obnoxious and, ultimately, fail. Introverts, as Aarti points, are naturally good listeners, a critical factor in traditional and digital communications.

Aarti is correct in saying too many graduating college student perceive PR to be a ‘people business.’ It is. But, then, what business isn’t? How could it be a business without people?

I’ve found ways to overcome my innate shyness by taking courses on improvisation and stand-up comedy. Both have made me much more comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I also like to challenge myself physically with ice, rock and mountain climbing. That may sound like a solitary avocation, but one is thrown in with all sorts of strangers who share the same goal, whether it’s summiting Kilimanjaro or pulling oneself up a frozen waterfall in Rumney, N.H.

It’s not always fun being an introvert, but it provides tons of intangible benefits, especially to public relations professionals.

So, here’s a shoutout to Aarti and Dushka for owning up to being introverts. I’m with you, guys. In fact, I think we should take our mutual bond to the next level. Let’s quit our day jobs and start a new business that is of, by and for introverts. We’ll call it Introverts, Inc. And, we’ll only represent brands that are too shy to ballyhoo their latest, greatest product or service. I even have an idea who our anchor client should be: Northwestern Mutual: The Quiet Company. Talk about a marriage made in heaven.

Mar 02

PepperPrep:  Where you pay to not get paid

March 2 Guest Post by Trish Taylor, Peppercom

At a time when most PR firms are scouring the landscape for new revenue streams and defending its turf, we just came across the perfect windfall  – pay-for-play internships. There are tons of parents out there willing to shell out whatever it takes to keep little Johnny from whining and looking good to the Joneses, so why not pay for your children to work? Hey, whatever it takes to get them out of the house, right?

Parents with heavy pockets are now paying $8K to PR firms, law firms, etc. to hire their lazy, underachieving kids for summer internships. I mean, why bother looking for an internship to get a career when you have that keg tapped in the closet and dad’s nickname is Moneybags? If you’re a parent with money to burn and a kid who soon will have a BS degree, we have a created PepperPrep. Our team is already busy cold calling multimillionaire parents with deadbeat kids as we speak.

The Chicago Tribune article quotes an intern whose dad paid $7K for an internship at a Chicago PR firm I’ve never heard of: "I guess I put off thinking about the summer until March. It was probably me trying to deny that I was going to have to get an internship that summer."

Must be nice. I hate to admit this, but I had nine internships. I didn’t have to pay for one of them though. Although, I did commute into Chicago for a couple that didn’t pay while I bartended and worked at a local grocery store at night. I had five in undergrad between my sophomore and senior years, one during graduate school and then three between grad school and finally landing a full time gig at the ripe old age of 26.

I was the product of being in grad school during Sept 11 so when I came out, no one was hiring. I would get an internship only to watch the company’s first layoffs. But my persistence paid off and it was my dad who I have to thank for that. He was a maintenance guy at many places that closed and moved operations to Mexico before he landed at a bread factory. As soon as he heard the shop was closing up, he made sure to have another job.

He’s never so much as $7K in the bank and I don’t think he’s even bought a vehicle for that. He gave me $20 a week in college to help with groceries if he had it. But I’m sure glad my parents taught me to work.

My advice to students out there now…nothing beats getting your hands dirty and you’ll earn a whole lot more respect over the whispers of, “Did you hear what her daddy bought her? Her job.”