Apr 30

Mick Cody takes umbrage with AP-Petside poll; says dogs rarely listen to their human owners

April 30 - dogs Mick Cody, a seven-year-old pit bull terrier, is upset with the findings of a recent AP-Petside poll of some 1,100 pet owners. The survey says one-third of pet-owning married women believe their pets are better listeners than their husbands (18 percent of pet-owning married men said the same thing).

'That's breed stereotyping,' said Mick. 'I'm sick and tired of hearing that dogs are great listeners. We're not. Trust me, we dial humans out after the first or second complaint.'

Mick also took exception with the poll results showing that most people believe their pets are stable and seldom struggle with depression. 'Are they serious?' Mick snarled. 'My master got me hooked on watching the Mets and Jets on TV. You want to talk depressing? I didn't bark for a month after the Mets blew that huge lead a few seasons back.'

The offer of a bone, a walk or a ride in the car are the only things that Mick says make his ears perk up. 'Otherwise, it's garbage in-garbage out. My mom complains about her aches and pains and my dad always has some issue with his business. You think that stuff doesn't get old real quick?'

If given an opportunity to do so, Mick said he'd bite 55-year-old Ron Farber of Hoxie, Kansas. Farber is quoted in the AP article as saying a '…dog doesn't have an opinion.' The pit bull bared his teeth when told of Farber's comment and howled, 'No opinion, huh? How's this? All politicians suck. All cable channels suck except Animal Planet. And, all 55-year-old dog owners from Hoxie, Kansas, suck!'

Believing that revenge is a dish best served cold, Mick says he's approaching an AP competitor to pitch a humanside poll. 'I want to survey 1,100 dogs and ask them whether they think their owners talk too much, are repetitive as hell and never pick up after themselves. He who barks last, barks best.'

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea behind this post.

Apr 29

Drill, baby, drill has its consequences

Sarah Palin, John McCain and their Tea Party/Measuring Up brethren have been chanting 'Drill, baby, drill'  for some time now.

April 29 Wrapping themselves in the American flag, pro-drill Republicans say it's critical we plumb the oil reserves lying off the U.S. shoreline. To do otherwise, they argue, is to keep us held hostage by the Middle East oil cartel. But, at what price?

The horrific BP oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just the latest example of what will happen if we continue to recklessly drill, baby, drill. Five billion barrels of oil are pouring daily into the Gulf's waters and slowly, but surely, making their way towards shore. The carnage to wildlife and pristine shorelines may be catastrophic (and, New Orleans may once again bear the brunt of the damage). Making matters even worse, BP can't figure out how to cap the sunken oil rig's three separate leaks.

Republicans paint domestic drilling opponents as unpatriotic tree huggers. Maybe so, but the more companies such as BP are given free reign to drill into America's continental shelf, the more we'll see environmental disasters like the one unfolding in the Gulf.

It's time for even more significant investments in alternative energy sources such as nuclear, wind and solar. Nobody wants to be held hostage by the oil cartel, but right wing hawks like Ms. Palin need to wise up. Otherwise, her multiple children and grandchildren will not only be able to see Russia from their front porch, they'll be able to walk across an oil-caked Bering Sea to get there.

Apr 28

Stranded in Europe

Guest Post by Meghan Prichard, Peppercom UK

I doubt Jimmy Buffett would ever have predicted that his song “Volcano” would become so many people’s theme song over the last week, but many of us really didn’t know where we were “gonna go when the volcano blow.”

April 28 As I boarded the plane April 14th for my first journey out of the country since arriving in England four months ago, trouble was brewing on another island nation 1,000 miles away, erupting later that day into a crisis that continues to wreak havoc on travelers, consumers and businesses alike.

As both a traveler and a consumer affected by the alphabet soup volcano Eyjafjallajokull, I was surprised by the lack of communication offered by any of the organizations I expected would serve as the most salient sources of information—specifically, my flight company and my home country.

There were no resources on the website for the U.S. Embassy in Germany. There was advice on the U.S. Embassy website in the United Kingdom, but it was for Americans stranded in the United Kingdom. I had registered my trip abroad with the Department of State, but received no email updates or suggestions on how to get home.

Meanwhile, Ryanair canceled my flight, which I learned from a prominent link on the website. A day later, Ryanair informed me of the cancellation by email and text message. The airline also offered a free rebooking for the following day. When that flight was canceled, it appeared that Ryanair’s already tenuous communications skills were collapsing. No email, no text, just another ominous link on the homepage.

Ryanair is notorious for its poor customer service, even when not in times of crisis. Any customer helpline number I called promised to charge 60 pence per minute and would undoubtedly cost more than my original flight by the time I got through to someone. Yet any travel alternative promised to cost even more time and money.

Continue reading

Apr 27

Boss, can you spare a dime?

I've never met Marc Hausman, president and CEO of Silver Spring, Md., based Strategic Communications Group, but I disagree with his POV on paid internships.

April 27 Hausman doesn't pay his interns a dime, citing 'the economics of hiring and our ability to deliver value to a client.' He goes on to say, 'When we make an offer of employment, we are projecting future results based on a track record of performance.' So, I guess he figures all interns will perform poorly.

Hausman also believes trust must first be built between an employer and an intern '…who, in many instances, has little (if any) relevant industry experience.' Only after the experience has been gained will Hausman shell out some dough.

That's just plain wrong. First, it presents students with a classic Catch-22. They can't get paid until they've gained experience, but Hausman won't pay them to gain experience. So, rent, food, clothes and other basic staples will just have to wait. Second, I've met countless interns from schools as diverse as Northeastern and The College of Charleston to Fordham and the University of Vermont who've made an immediate, short-term impact on our business. And, we're happy to compensate them for their hard work.

We pay our interns $300 a week, which is hardly enough to help make ends meet. But, it is something. More importantly, it sends a message to our interns that we value their contributions.

I've always been of the opinion that you get what you pay for. If you want the best interns, dig into your pockets and find $300 a week to help them with room and board. If you want a student who's at her wit's end and willing to take anything, then stick with the pro bono strategy.

Hausman ends his article by referencing one erstwhile, unpaid intern who's risen through the ranks at Strategic Communications. That's great. I'm glad she was able to find the financial means to pay the rent while her employer decided if she was worthy of being paid. As for us, we've had scores of paid interns join us full-time and make their way right to our management committee. I'd like to think our willingness to provide a weekly paycheck from day one was the first step in that process.

Apr 26

From colostomy bags to Sarah Palin

RepChatter co-host Ted ‘Ludacris’ Birkhahn and I recently played host to Andy Sullivan, creator of bluecollarcorner.com and one of the founders of Tea Party 365.

Andy proved to be a worthy foil to Ted’s far left wing, pro big government sentiments as he made a solid, if somewhat disjointed, plea for a return to the way we were. As you’ll hear, Andy waxes poetic on everything from the peace-loving nature of Tea Party members to a prediction that Sarah Palin will fool everyone and waltz into the Oval Office in 2012. I’m not sure what inspired him to insert walkers and colostomy bags in the discussion, but the bluecollarguy promised a no holds barred chat and certainly delivered.

I hope you enjoy the podcast. Do me a favor and post your thoughts and/or follow-up questions for Andy. Andy, in turn, has promised to forward the link to the Tea Party universe, so this could get very interesting. One final note: Andy has agreed to do another RepChatter podcast on the eve of the 2010 midterm elections. We’d like to match him with a more knowledgeable and strident liberal spokesperson than Ted and would welcome your thoughts.

Apr 23

What’s In A Name?

Guest Post by Rebecca Maas, Peppercommotions

I recently spent some time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia where the hot news topics were the record high temperatures, the Flying Squirrels – the capitol city’s new minor league baseball team – and the introduction of Martin’s Food Markets to the metro area. More notable, however, than the entrance of Martin’s has been the exit of Richmond’s beloved Ukrop’s, the 70-year-old, family-owned grocery chain known for its good ol’ southern hospitality (employees cart your groceries to your vehicle for free – no tipping allowed!) and the best gosh-darn baked goods this side of the Mason-Dixon. When Ukrop’s was acquired earlier this year by Martin’s Richmonders didn’t take the news so well. 

You see, Ukrop’s is more than a place to buy groceries; it’s an institution in central Virginia. Ukrop’s is a major player in the community – from its very own Ukrop’s Foundation that benefits economic development initiatives, to serving as title sponsor of the annual Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K. As a former Monument Avenue resident, and a two-time participant in the run, I can tell you first-hand that this race is very meaningful to the community. It also has national recognition as one of
USA Today’s top 10 road races (2009). 

Ukrop’s is synonymous with the Monument Avenue 10k – it should be, considering it has been the title sponsor of the race since its inception in 2000. With Martin’s coming to town, many are wondering what next year’s race will bring and rumors are flying about its new face. Some say it will be the Martin’s Market Monument Avenue 10K; others say it will be the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K Presented by Martin’s. Some even claim that the Ukrop family will personally sponsor the race in an effort to keep their name alive. Time – and attitudes – will tell. 

While many in Richmond are struggling with this change, it’s not the first time a treasured event (or icon) has had to make nice with a new sponsor. College bowl games are constantly swapping out sponsors, and you have to wonder what Tiger Woods’s sponsors are really thinking for the long-term. Without a hard and fast formula that can automatically generate the best solution, brands must – at the very least – collaborate with the out-going sponsor as much as possible, where possible. Martin’s should be able to do this pretty easily considering they now own the out-going sponsor. 

Another crucial step is to listen to what customers and audiences are saying. This includes paying attention to the local news; the Richmond Times-Dispatch covered the first round of Martin’s openings on its front page and its Twitter feed has been jam-packed with Martin’s/Ukrop’s-related tweets. Responding to questions and concerns from the community in a timely fashion is equally important. Avoiding an open and honest discussion will only lead to comments like “it didn’t used to be like this.”

If they’re lucky, Martin’s will be in Richmond for a long time and they’ll quickly understand that their neighbors don’t like change. My recommendation would be to keep the Ukrop’s name around for a while, and move forward with the switch nice and slow, Virginia-style. 

Apr 21

The S.S. RepChatter sails into unchartered waters

Since its origins a few years back, RepChatter, the bastard podcast offspring of RepMan, has bravely sailed through turbulent waters to examine such controversial issues as:

– The relevance of the Catholic Church (with guest Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League)
– The very existence of God (with guests Darryl Salerno and Dawn Lauer arguing nay and yay, respectively)
– Toyota’s self-inflicted wounds (with a top Fordham professor)

First Officer Ted ‘Ludacris’ Birkhahn and I have navigated these controversial and often heated discussions with our usual combination of bluster, bravado and complete ignorance (we’ve also ducked and covered when things have gotten totally out of hand. Listen to the Salerno v. Lauer podcast and you’ll know what I mean. But, Ted and I must admit to a certain trepidation in anticipation of our upcoming podcast with Andy Sullivan.

April 21 Andy, you see, manages public relations for bluecollarcorner.com, and is one of the Tea Party’s 365 founding members. To say that Tea Party members are outspoken is like saying the Rolling Stones occasionally tore up hotel rooms in their heyday. The S.S. RepChatter will be sailing straight into a Category Five hurricane named Andy.

To prepare for the epoch-making event, I’ve boned up on the Tea Party and studied the recent CBS News/New York Times poll. As most of you know, the Tea Party’s goal is to reduce the role of the federal government in our lives. That I knew. What I didn’t know was their make-up. The average Tea Party member watches Fox News (Surprise. Surprise). Most are men. Nine in 10 are white. Half describe themselves as middle class. Three in four are age 45 or older. Nearly three-fourths consider themselves conservative (another ‘no duh’) and 39 percent identify themselves as evangelicals (So, I have to believe they aren’t fans of Darryl Salerno’s P.O.V. on God). They despise Obama and the current Congress and adore W and Sarah Palin (although most don’t think the erstwhile Alaska governor should run for president). Last, but not least, nearly 60 percent keep a gun in their households (which is why we’ve asked Andy to join us by phone as opposed to in-studio).

I plan to ask Andy a whole range of questions, including:

– How come you dig Sarah, but don’t think she belongs in the Oval Office?
– What’s with all the guns?
– Is Fox News really ‘fair and balanced’ as advertised?
– Describe the ideal society
– Do a bunch of middle-aged white guys really represent the views of the average Americans (Some 84 percent of Tea Party members say they do)

I’ll have other questions based upon Andy’s responses. And, I’m sure the Ludacris one will weigh in with his usual few non sequiturs. But, what about you? What questions would you like me to ask Andy? Let me know and I’ll be sure to represent my constituents. As for now, it’s full steam ahead. First Officer Birkhahn: be on the alert for icebergs.

Apr 20

Conduct unbecoming an owner of a PR firm

A few years back we were about to fill an account executive spot. Having been left out of the interview process, I asked where the candidate currently worked. When I was told, I put an immediate hold on things. The prospect worked at a firm run by a good friend. I picked up the phone, called the friend and, without naming names (so as to not damage the candidate's standing within the incumbent agency) told the CEO what was going on. I said that our friendship was more important than an individual hire and offered to call off the negotiations. The CEO asked for a few hours to think things over. He called back, thanked me profusely for the courtesy, but said, 'If this employee has one foot out the door, he'll either go to Peppercom or somewhere else. I'd feel better knowing he was going to work with you and Ed.'

I share the anecdote because two 'friends' have recently poached talent from my firm without saying word one to me before, during or after the incidents. I expect this sort of behavior from the large, more impersonal agencies. But these two firms are quite a bit smaller than ours. And, frankly, the agency CEO network is a rather tight one. While there are a few rogues, most of us like each other and are often willing to share advice, best practices, etc. There's an unwritten rule that we won't steal talent from one another. It's just not done.

I expect to run into the two CEOs of these firms at some point soon and, when I do, I want to ask them each the same question: 'Why did you steal my people? Why would you want to hurt my firm? I'm honestly disappointed in your behavior.'

Needless to say, our management team is angry and anxious to exact revenge. That's unfortunate and, I hope we can fill our needs elsewhere. Two wrongs never make a right. Especially in such a small world as public relations.

It's best to move on. But not before authoring a blog calling attention to conduct unbecoming an owner of a PR firm. This is boorish behavior that, in the final analysis, will adversely impact the image and reputation of the other agencies. And, that, is the only revenge necessary.

Apr 19

The Final Frontier

Guest Post by Melissa Vigue, Peppercommotions

April 19 Last week I received an email from WSJON – the Wall Street Journal’s Office Network. The offer stated that I, on behalf of my clients, could reach thousands of young, affluent professionals in the one place we spend the most time – the office. 

The premise is this: Brands can engage potential consumers via “experiential marketing” (think samples and live demos) in hundreds of office complexes nationwide. Sounds great, right?  As someone who executes brand experiences and a real believer in forging a connection with consumers, my gut says, “Yes, another opportunity for our clients.” 

As a consumer and a commuter who is hawked everything from haircuts to handbags on her way to the office, I‘m not so sure. Hitting that lobby, waving to the doorman and racing to the elevator are a delicately choreographed dance and, frankly, one of the last places where I want to be solicited.

Do I have time, or more importantly the desire, to stop and try a sample or hear more about this great new {insert product here}? Keep in mind; this is coming from a New Yorker. For those who commute here, you know what I mean. Is this different outside of major cities? Would suburban corporate parks be more receptive? Maybe.

In my opinion, marketers can’t go wrong with food, beverages or technology and services (think dry cleaning delivery) that can make my life easier. The risk is putting a brand’s reputation on the line to engage consumers in a new way. If I am approached in such a way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended), I am much more likely to talk, blog, or Facebook about that experience. 

Whatever your take on this new – or final – experiential frontier, it will be interesting to see how it plays out, both for marketers and consumers.

Apr 15

Hey, Blixinbottom. It’s time for another fishing expedition. Round up the usual suspects

April 15 What do a Midwestern law firm, a Phoenix-based social media company and a New England financial services organization have in common? They've all gone on recent PR firm fishing expeditions.

In doing so, they've issued RFPs, made agencies scramble to respond, invited a select few to visit their environs (at agency cost, of course) and then never, ever made a decision. Nice, no?

The Great Recession has seen a great rise in the number of fishing expeditions. In fact, I recently told a PR Week reporter that I've never seen more totally bogus leads in my entire life. Even those crazy, egomaniacal, abusive-as-hell dotcom prospects made decisions and hired firms. They may have fired them a week later but, hey, at least they made pulled the trigger.

Not nowadays, though. Nowadays it's all about the fishing expedition. The endless, '….just one more round of reviews and we'll get back to you with a decision soon' fishing expedition.

I think fishing expeditions are thriving for three reasons:

1) Prospective clients know agencies are dying for new business and, like a hungry shark, are ready to bite at the first lure. 'So, let's test the waters, Blixinbottom. Maybe we'll find something. Maybe we won't. But, who cares?'
2) It's a great way to get free creative advice. Agencies are all too happy to fork over pro bono strategy and creativity as long as there's a potential of being hired. 'Look, Blixinbottom, you're stuck for new ideas and I haven't had one since Jerry Ford was president. We're both feeling the heat from old man Bedwetter, so let's pick some brains. The price is right.'
3) The prospective client who initiated the search finds out he never had the authority to do so, but is too embarrassed to tell the competing firms. 'Ignore the damn e-mails, Blixinbottom. They'll move on. Still, I could have sworn Bedwetter said we had a budget to hire an outside PR firm. Oh well. Hey, let's do that one idea about an online advisory board. It rocked!'

Our various industry trade associations like to publish white papers and research purporting to show how PR is slowly, but surely, playing an ever more important role in major corporations. That may be true in some instances. But, many corporate decision-makers still see PR as a commodity and treat PR firms as vendors who, like a school of fish, will swarm around a warm lead. And, the sad truth is, we will.

'So, Blixinbottom, let's draft a new RFP, send it out to a few different suspects this time and let's see what type of ideas we dredge up. You never know. One of these days old man Bedwetter just might let us hire someone. In the meantime, we need ideas.'