Nov 11

The image sent is not necessarily the image received

I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book that made me laugh out loud with each and every new page. Jon Stewart’s Earth: A Visitor’s guide to the Human Race is one of those rarities. Written by Stewart and his staff, the book is intended for aliens who discover our planet long after we’ve perished. It’s intended to explain to the aliens what they’ve stumbled across.

Sections include: explanations on how our society was structured, our major religions formed and our bizarre culture created. The latter is beautifully captured in what Stewart calls his FAQs, or Frequent Alien Questions. For example:

Alien question: "The Acme company appears to have made low-quality products. How did they stay in business?"

Stewart: "Free shipping to remote desert locations."

Alien question: "You had the word Trump on many of your buildings. What did that word mean?"

Stewart: "A Trump was a demon who sometimes appeared to us in quasi-human form in order to fire us from jobs we never wanted in the first place."

One of my favorite sections is entitled, ‘Corporate Identity.’ It reads: "The choice of a proper brand logo was as crucial to a corporation as a nation’s flag or a religion’s gold-thing-you-wear-on-a-chain. It had to be visually appealing, but it did not have to have anything to do with what your company did." In other words, the image being sent by countless corporations wasn’t necessarily the image received by end users.

Here are three classic examples Stewart cites:


What you’d expect them to sell: White babies.   

What they sold: Baby food.


Anheuser-Busch 'Here's to Beer' :  

What you’d expect them to sell: Eagle traps.   

What they sold: Urine-flavored beer.



What you’d expect them to sell: Three-field crop rotation.

What they sold: Your own money back to you.



Loving Stewart’s suggestions so much, I decided to submit my own: 


What you’d expect them to sell: Antebellum plantations.  

What they sold: Cholesterol-laden fried chicken.


  Alaska Airlines Logo

What you’d expect them to sell: Grumpy Eskimos.  

What they sold: Air travel to and from places that had no Eskimos.



What you’d expect them to sell: West Village bouncers.

What they sold: Floor cleaner that could probably double as rocket fuel if you Aliens ever find yourself in a pinch.

How about you Repman readers? Do you know any corporate logos that have absolutely nothing to do with explaining the type of product the company sells? I’m all ears (which, FYI to future alien readers, means "I’m welcoming readers to submit their ideas.")


Nov 09




In an effort to gain a better understanding of  where the mark eting   communications world is headed and what the new definition of integrated marketing really means, I’ve taken it upon myself to reach out and ask various leaders from the worlds of public relations, word-of-mouth, digital and advertising to share their POVs.



CIF2010_462 My inaugural conversation is with Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms. I’m proud to call Kathy a good friend (and a great source of counsel in good times and bad). Please feel free to post your views on Kathy’s observations and/or serve up some questions of your own for the Council’s head honcho.

1) Your third quarter member survey showed a definite improvement in terms of increased billings, prospects in the pipeline, etc. How bullish are you about 2011 and how do you think the PR industry as a whole will fare next year?
Kathy: Based on the Council's Q3 Quick Survey and discussions with member firms, 2010 will be better than 2009, and while it is still a bit early to know for sure, 2011 should be better than this year.
2) The Council maintains a client advisory board. I'm interested to what they're telling you. Could you share their two or three most pressing needs as well as what they see as the greatest strength of their agency partners?

Kathy: In-house corporate communications professionals have hard, multifaceted jobs.  In addition to a challenging economy, their jobs are becoming more complex– and more important within their organizations. Reputation management, for example, whether brand or corporate, requires constant vigilance. Part and parcel of protecting reputation today is having a comprehensive, integrated social media program.

PR firms’ counsel on these and other areas is valued for its multi-stakeholder approach. Perhaps the greatest value agency partners can provide their clients is insight into the competitive marketplace, and to help them ‘see around corners.’ Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global marketing officer, who spoke at the Council’s Critical Issues Forum recently, referred to the importance of brand building and the crucial role PR should have in real-time marketing to communities.  And of course, flawless execution by firms is always required.
3) As we all know, the lines between PR, advertising and digital are blurring in a major way. As a result, we're running into many ad and digital firms who bolt on a PR capability and try to convince our clients to consolidate everything with them. Are you hearing this from other members? If so, what are best practices for PR firms to keep the barbarians at the gate as it were?
Kathy: Yes, we do hear about firms without public relations expertise attempting to provide it. However, savvy clients realize that public relations is much more than digital or advertising (see above: reputation management). In fact, you could make the case that digital and advertising are tactics that can be implemented as part of a comprehensive public relations strategy.
PR firms are integrating digital and social into the fabric of their work, while embracing their heritage as storytellers and content creators.  The Council also advocates for business best practices, such as adherence to the Council’s Statement of Principles, which support ethical and transparent business practices.
4)Thanks to reality TV and a few movies, the average American believes PR is nothing more than party planning and workplace drama. What is the Council doing to try and portray a more complete (and accurate) depiction of our industry?

Kathy: There are many industries and many professions that get a bad rap by TV stereotypes. Realistically, it’s doubtful that the average TV watcher will every truly understand public relations. (Our families don’t necessarily understand what we do but we love them anyway.)
Our goal is to demonstrate to the purchasers of public relations services that PR firms deliver great value. The way we portray the industry is through thought leadership – white papers, webinars, speaking and such, in addition to the Firm Voice blog and management-oriented programs such as the Critical Issues Forum. Two weeks ago, speaking at the Forum, the world’s top marketer, P & G’s Marc Pritchard, said “I truly love PR and I think it’s time for it to shine,” As part of that event, at our annual dinner, Vinton Cerf, one of the true inventors of the internet, spoke to a packed room of public relations professionals about the future of the Internet, communications and privacy, among other things. You won’t see these kinds of discussions on MTV or Bravo, but they are lot more relevant to the level at which we and others view the profession.
5) Just a personal observation, but it seems to me that the vast majority of young people entering our profession are white females. Does it concern you that one day soon our industry will no longer reflect the diverse society in which we live? Is the Council undertaking any initiatives to ensure more young men and people of color join our ranks?
Kathy: I whole-heartedly agree that the industry needs men and women, as well as people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds, different lifestyles and diverse educational and work experiences.  Public relations is a terrific career choice and we participate in several career fairs during the year to help communicate that message to students. On behalf of the Council, I sit on the board of a wonderful organization called The LAGRANT Foundation which provides scholarships to Black, Hispanic and Asian students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in public relations, marketing and advertising, and the Council has recently launched a training program, called the High Point Series, to help with retention at the mid-management level. PR firm owners like yourself can help schools attract students more reflective of society by proving targeted internships and by reviewing your hiring policies.
6) We've derived multiple benefits from our Council membership over the years. But, it still seems that only large agency CEOs are named chairs of the Council.

Kathy: Regarding the board, it is comprised of 18 members (six each from large, mid-sized and small firms); the executive committee has 2 representatives from each tier. Each board member is elected to a three year term and we very much appreciate the time and commitment to properly fill a board position (including you, ‘05-07). While there are many people from a cross section of firms who would do a good job, the chair has, to date, come from the large firm tier.  The Board and the Leadership & Governance Committee believe the organization’s leadership has been thus far best served this way.  Council members, and the industry, have benefited from Council chairs who have shared their significant in-house resources with Council members and the industry.  In addition, the chair (and the board members) support the Council financially by participating in the opt-in events such as the Critical Issues Forum and the High Point Series.
If the Council is going to address the kinds of issues you write about in Repman, in addition to other important member concerns, it is going to take the commitment and support of many– the Chair, the Board, committee volunteers, and all Council members to help us succeed.
7) Last, but not least, what business issues keep the president of the Council of PR Firms up at night?

Kathy: Two things: first, with input from our members, continuing to expand our portfolio of products and services to meet the growing and changing needs of our membership; for example, we created the RFP Builder and Find-a-Firm to help improve the agency search process, and agency management training programs to help improve the business and management skills of PR firm employees.
Second, trying to convince non-members that they need to join; the Council is a great place to share ideas, meet new people and help make the industry stronger.


Nov 08

If I were a miller (Part II)

PepperMill_Banner Small Here is Part II of my Q and A with Peppercom's "Miller" Lauren Begley.

4) REPMAN: What's your POV on the breakthrough marketing campaigns you cover in the Mill? What's the secret sauce or ingredients that every great campaign contains?

LAUREN: The most innovative campaigns are not necessarily the largest or most expensive. Nor do they always come from big brands or agencies. In fact, many of the most successful campaigns are often quite simple. Honest Tea is a great example. They recently launched an ‘unscientific study’ to find the most honest city in America. They placed cases of Honest Tea in public areas with a sign asking for passerbys to leave $1 if they took a beverage. In the end, Boston topped the list with Los Angeles at the bottom. Aside from the small cost of product, Honest Tea was able to create buzz in both print media and online when they released the results of their test along with a series of videos on YouTube. In terms of a ‘secret sauce,’ the key seems to be interactivity; successful campaigns often call on the general consumer audience to participate in an activity or movement that spreads online. Then the media take notice.

5) REPMAN: How has our staff (and your external audiences) reacted to the Innovation Mill? Are you at the point yet where you're refining what runs and what doesn't?

LAUREN: The Peppercom staff has been incredibly supportive. Several employees have become proactive in sending us case studies or articles of interest. Others have found the Mill to be a great tool worth sharing with clients. In either case, the employee feedback has helped us tweak our process and focus our research on topics that resonate with our employees and clients. This team effort has helped us create a more useful end result.

6) REPMAN: How would you advise any organization, large or small, to create their own Innovation Mill?

LAUREN: I think all agencies should have some sort of system in place to track industry trends – it will only make them more informed and, ultimately, more competitive. To get started, here are a few suggestions:
• Involve people within your organization who are genuinely interested in creative thinking and industry trends.
• Encourage all employees to read, circulate and discuss industry news.  Try to find a lesson in everything you read.
• Listen to ideas employees share and green light the good ones. Whether it is starting an innovation team or initiating ‘board game Fridays,’ hear them out. You never know where those initiatives could lead.

Nov 05

If I were a miller (Part I)

Every organization should have its own miller. To be more precise, every organization should Lauren - RepMan have an individual who ‘owns' the latest and greatest innovation news and creates a 'mill' with which to disseminate best practices.

Meet Lauren Begley. She created our Innovation Mill. (The Innovation Mill Vol 5)  Lauren came up with the idea, presented it to me, assembled a team and became an editor/publisher overnight.

She now routinely trolls the web in search of the best and brightest marketing programs, condenses them in an easy-to-read format and shares the findings with her peers every month. Her Innovation Mill is one of my ‘must reads’. And, it's becoming popular with clients and friends of the agency as well.

I wanted to know more about our miller, so I put together a Q and A. Here's part one. Check out for part two on Monday.

1)   REPMAN: I'm not exaggerating when I say the vast majority of the PR industry group I recently addressed were amazed to hear you'd created an 'Innovation Mill' on your own. Tell me what the Innovation Mill is, what prompted you to come to me with the idea and how you went about launching the first issue.

LAUREN: The Innovation Mill is Peppercom’s monthly recap of the most cutting edge campaigns and best practices from the fields of public relations, marketing, advertising and more. It includes a variety of case studies, trend analysis and summaries of how this information directly relates to our clients’ business.

As is every mid-sized agency, we are faced with a constantly changing media landscape, client demand for results, and a need to stay competitive among other agencies vying for new business. I created the Innovation Mill to help Peppercom employees stay abreast of industry trends, stimulate creative thinking among account teams, and identify best practices relevant to our agency and its clients.

2) REPMAN: As is the case with all Peppercommers, you're a very busy person. How do you find the time to uncover Innovation Mill-worthy stories? Also, tell me about the team that works with you to edit the 'Mill.'

LAUREN: Time is yet another reason I felt so strongly about starting the Innovation Mill. With everyone strapped for time, many find it difficult to set aside even 30 minutes each day to read the news, let alone explore interesting case studies or best practices.

To remedy this, I pulled together the innovation team, a group of employees spanning every Peppercom office and specialty practice area. We all now have dedicated hours each week to spend researching and writing, which essentially removes the guess-work for the rest of the agency. We circulate interesting articles and hold discussions – and sometimes debates – over interesting campaigns. The result is an Innovation Mill with an interesting mix of information on everything from the latest new digital platform to a crazy guerilla marketing stunt overseas.

3) REPMAN: You've published five Innovation Mills to date. If I pinned you down, what would you say is the single coolest story you've reported on?

LAUREN: We’ve seen several interesting campaigns over the past few months. One of my favorites was the Volkswagen ‘Fun Theory’ campaign in Sweden. Created by DDB Stockholm, this campaign set out to see if making activities more fun would influence consumer behavior. This included transforming a Swedish subway staircase into a giant, functioning piano, which resulted in 66 percent more people choosing the steps rather than an escalator. Other elements included creating the world’s deepest trash bin to see if more people would stop littering and a speed camera lottery to see if more people would obey the speed limit. This campaign is smart for many reasons. First, it encourages consumer participation, which has resulted in mass media interest and a spreadable online component (see this excellent YouTube video). Second, it reinforces the brand’s messaging that Volkswagen vehicles make driving fun.


Nov 03

The Ideal Client

Imagine the ideal client. Someone who, once you've proven yourself:
– allows you to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.
– has seat at the table for you when the organization's strategic business decisions are being made.
– gives you full access to the senior thought leaders within the organization.
– celebrates your successes and commiserates with you when something goes wrong.
– stays loyal to you through thick and thin.

009 fixed by MadClients such as Monica Teague at Whirlpool, Tom Topinka at Genworth and Mike Kachel at Clifford Chance certainly fill the ideal client bill. But, when an employee recently cornered me at our 15th anniversary party and asked me to name my all-time favorite client, I volunteered the name of Allison Adams. 
Allison was my client at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School. Like Monica, Tom and Mike, Allison was a true strategic partner. But, where Allison truly separated herself from virtually every other client with whom I've worked was in her unswerving loyalty.

Allison, you see, went with me whenever I packed up and left a previous agency behind. So, when I bagged Earle Palmer Brown for Brouillard, Allison convinced her management to stick with me. And, when Ed and I bagged Brouillard to start Peppercom, Allison held steady. And, when Allison resigned, she took Peppercom along with her to UNC (after we’d had a falling out with her successor). Loyalty like that is virtually extinct in the modern business world.

We'd still be working with Allison if a certain dean hadn't decided to reallocate funds from public relations to fundraising (and how, I ask, does one fundraise without simultaneously raising awareness?). Oh well.

As Don Draper said in a recent Mad Men episode, "Accounts come and accounts go. That's the business we're in." Don's right of course. But, then again, Don Draper never met Allison Adams.

Nov 02

It’s D-Day for liberals, conservatives and libertarians alike


I think I speak for each and every America when I say, “Thank god, election day is here and those horrific political attack ads will finally be gone.”

To get an insider’s view on how the mid-terms will go, Ted ‘Ludacris’ Birkhahn and I played host to Cenk Uygur, creator of and a frequent contributor to MSNBC.

As you’ll hear, Cenk pulls no punches in attacking both Tea Party extremists and the far too many failings of the Obama Administration (if fact, at one point, Cenk likens ‘The One’ to Peppercom’s very own Birkhahn since both are long on promises and short on results).

Click below, to listen:

Enjoy. And, please exercise your right to vote (and post comments on this podcast). I’m Repman and I approved this Repchatter.

Nov 01

Which witch is which? Wiccans aren’t sure when it comes to Christine O’Donnell.

The following is a special election eve guest blog from friend and former co-worker, Peter Engel.

Peter once dated a witch and, if given the chance to debate Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, tells me he'd confront her with the following riff on Lloyd Bentsen's classic remark to Dan Quayle" "Ms. O'Donnell, I knew a witch. And Ms. O'Donnell, you're no witch."

Enjoy the blog and be sure to vote tomorrow for your favorite witch, warlock or druid…

When I worked for him back in the mid-Nineties, RepMan took much amusement from the fact that I dated a woman who called herself a practicing witch. While it’s been over 15 years since that ended, hIconurle still enjoys dredging that up, even though she’s not Christine O'Donnell.

But O'Donnell ended up playing a role in an exchange between Steve and me in his blog post about poor service in a Boston Panera Bread. O’Donnell’s increasingly outrageous statements about “dabbling in witchcraft” or her awful "I'm Not a Witch" TV ad brought up a question like this: why haven’t practicing Wiccans jumped into the fray to denounce O’Donnell for creating misperceptions about them? Why haven’t their spokespeople taken to 24/7 cable media outlets, the blogosphere, or NPR/PBS-type outlets to chastise O’Donnell and opportunistic media outlets for belittling their deeply-held beliefs? 

It turns out that they really don’t feel a need to. A conversation with Rachael Watcher, national public information officer for the California-based Covenant of the Goddesses, revealed that being a part of the noise doesn’t fit organization’s communications strategy. Watcher doesn’t see how bloviating on Fox News Channel is consistent with what Wiccans are about.

 “There are legitimate questions raised about the Wiccan religion and witches,” Watcher said, ”shouting for ourselves doesn’t do us any good.”

There was already a lot of information available about the Wiccan religion and witches. But the high school experience O’Donnell has described – the one that “didn’t involve blood and stuff” – has Watcher perplexed.

“Whatever it is she ran across, it’s not our religion,” said Watcher. “What’s come out has been so ridiculous. Right now, it’s just the media looking for sensationalism.”

So what IS the Wiccan religion about? Wicca, or Witchcraft is the most popular expression of the religious movement known as Neo-Paganism. Based on nature and respecting the Earth’s elements, Wiccan revives ancient Pagan practices and beliefs of pre-Christian Europe and adapts them to contemporary life. Wiccans believe in God and prayer, honor all religions and want the world to be a better place. There are over 800,000 Wiccans in the U.S, with several local and regional organizations to be found through the Internet or word of mouth.

The Covenant of the Goddess, non-hierarchical and governed by consensus, has members in North America, Europe and Australia. According to the Institute for the Study of American Religion, it’s the fastest growing religion in Canada, and it’s coming up fast in the U.S.

Here’s what it’s NOT about: Satanism, flying broomsticks, pointy hats, boiling pots, Samantha and her mother Endora, stealing, killing (not even flies), lying, men who call themselves warlocks, or working 'black magic.'

While Wiccans feel anything but victimized by O’Donnell’s statements or the current hubbub, they do see a need to do more education and remove common misperceptions. After the election, Watcher hopes that Covenant of the Goddesses and the worldwide Wiccan community will have a less frenzied environment to build awareness about their practices and beliefs, and demonstrate how mainstream they really are.

The Wiccan religion builds its reputation through spiritual experience; they aren’t particularly eager for publicity in the traditional sense. While that probably won’t mean business for agencies, their communication strategy of first tuning out the noise is refreshing.

I’m Repman and I approved this guest blog.

Peter Engel has over 20 years experience in marketing communications working with clients in automotive, business-to-business, consumer marketing, education, financial services, healthcare, media, real estate and technology. Peter lives happily in New York City and no longer has nightmares about his experiences working with Steve and Ed at Earle Palmer Brown.