Jan 14

How many lawyers does it take to pay back a student loan?

Today's guest post is by Greg Schmalz, president of Schmalz Communications.


 The future. No one has a crystal ball as to what tomorrow will bring.  Just ask your local weatherman. There are no guarantees, especially in life. But for teenagers and college students, the one thing they cling to is hope for the future. 

Lasky_Mzzz The value of a good education has been drilled into them by parents and educators. College students pick their majors and then pursue their dreams.  Pretty much like a leprechaun hoping to reac h the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow-  to reap the rewards, there must be some risk. 

And while U.S. News in 1997 painted a rosy picture for future law students, today is anything but rosy with unemployment hovering around 10 percent. An article in Sunday's New York Times focuses on how graduates with law degrees are steeped in debt (some in the neighborhood of $250,000) for schooling, yet are unemployed. Like any other industry, the law profession has been hit hard by the economy. While tuition costs vary, paying in the range of $150,000-$200,000 is not out of the realm.

Sure, once a graduate with a J.D. degree finds employment, salary could be upwards of $150,000 annually.  But how long will these graduates need to sit on the sideline before they get their chance in the real world?

Unemployment checks aren't going to help much when they are overwhelmed with debt. Is the risk worth it?  The only job I know where you start at the top is a grave digger.  Have some of these students who chose law as a profession made a "grave" mistake? 

While there may be prestige in becoming a lawyer, it still doesn't put food on the table if you don't have a job. Many of us have transitioned from one career to another. Students these days are going to have to take a serious look at this profession before determining their career path or at least have something to fall back on.

What suggestions would you have?

Jan 13

The differences couldn’t be more striking

Officialportrait 20091122013824!Sarah_Palin_official_portrait I'm becoming more convinced with each passing day that Barack Obama will win re-election in 2012.

For one thing, he's finally awakened and is now followed Bill Clinton's proven 'centrist' strategy.  More importantly, though, his statesmanlike words and actions in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting spree stand in stark contrast to those of his number one contender in 2012.

Last night, Obama called for a new era of civility (and, good luck with that, Mr. President.) Meanwhile, the erstwhile Alaskan governor and slayer of moose, elk and god knows what else chose, instead, to stir the hate talk with even more hate talk. Palin accused TV commentators and journalists of “blood libel” in their rush to blame Palin-inspired, Tea Party-generated hate speak for the murders.

In the process, Palin somehow managed to make a bad situation even worse by outraging Democratic lawmakers, fellow Republicans and Jewish groups with her use of the expression “blood libel”. According to a New York Times, the term was originally coined by anti-Semites in the Middle Ages who blamed Jews for killing their Christian children. Palin, who is positively clueless about history, American or otherwise, obviously had no idea of the term's historic and demeaning origins.

The Republican Party needs to start distancing itself from their momma grizzly and find a centrist candidate who has some grip on reality, a sense of history and an ability to project statesmanlike leadership in a time of crisis. What they don't need is someone like Palin, who seems limited to vitriolic, malaprop-laden, mumbo-jumbo.

As someone who studies image and reputation, I think the aftermath of the Tucson shootings reveals the stark differences between the two leaders.

One is calm, measured and able to seize the opportunity to redirect a nation that is slowly splitting apart at the seams. The other reverts to form, hunkers down in her Wasilla bunker and stirs up a new, news cycle with her unfortunate anti-Semitic remarks.

The differences couldn't be more striking.

Jan 12

A day like any other day? Not quite

1969-ny-daily-news-jan-320January 12th is just another day for everyone in the world. Everyone that is, except for New York  Jets fans.

That’s because it was Sunday, January 12, 1969, that the New York Jets won their one, and only, Super Bowl. It was a magic day that remains to Jets fans near and far, and young and old, a Camelot-like ‘brief, shining moment.’ It was also a major image and reputation moment for the old American Football League since, by winning the game, the AFL’s Jets brought instant credibility to the junior league and expedited an eventual merger.

Since 1969, though, each January 12th has been little more than a drab, early winter day to me and every other member of Gang Green. Will this January 12th be remembered differently? Will it be recalled as a midpoint on the way to a second Jets Super Bowl victory? I sincerely doubt it. But, hope springs eternal for Jets fans and this year’s team is certainly talented, if inconsistent.

So, here’s hoping that today’s otherwise utterly mundane, forgettable date is, instead, a key milestone along the road to a second trip to the Promised Land for Jets fans.

Jan 11

Dynamic duo or desperate divas?

I am not a fan of celebrity endorsements. Never have been and never will be. I’m Meat-dress-lady-gaga-02 anti-endorsement for two fundamental reasons:
1.)    I’ve seldom seen one where a celebrity’s image and reputation perfectly aligns with those of an organization.
2.)    There’s simply too much organizational image and reputation downside in this age of naughty celebrity behavior (think: Tiger, Brett, Mel, Lindsay, Britney, etc.). I realize some of those celebs don’t double as product endorsers, but you get my gist.

So, I winced when I read the AdWeek article about Lady Gaga’s unholy alliance with the Polaroid Corporation. The legendary, if beleaguered, brand apparently inked a deal last year with the train wreck of a pop star to have the latter endorse Polaroid’s new line of digital cameras and trinkets. She was also ‘appointed’ Polaroid’s chief creative officer. To which I respond, Ha! Could you imagine attending a brainstorming session with Lady Gaga in which target audience demographics and psychographics are discussed? I think even Snooki could provide more coherent input.

For Lady Gaga, though, the Polaroid gig provides some much needed, real world credibility. Indeed, her statement says as much:

"The Haus of Gaga has been developing prototypes in the vein of fashion/technology/photography innovation – blending the iconic history of Polaroid and instant film with the digital era – and we are excited to collaborate on these ventures with the Polaroid brand. Lifestyle, music, art, fashion: I am so excited to extend myself behind the scenes as a designer, and to as my father puts it – finally, have a real job."

The Haus of Repman doesn’t buy this collaboration at all. For one thing, Gaga is a ticking time bomb. And, no matter how badly Polaroid needs to re-position itself and appear cool to Millennials, partnering with Gaga is anything but authentic. Desperate, yes. Authentic, no. I could see Polaroid partnering with, say, Keith Richards. But, Lady Gaga? C’mon.

In fact, if memory serves, Polaroid had great success in the 1970s partnering with actors James Garner and Mariette Hartley for a long-standing, highly successful advertising campaign. Garner and Hartley were established, trustworthy and, unlike Gaga, highly professional. More importantly, the campaign ‘rang true’. It represented the Polaroid that consumers had come to know and love.

This past week, Lady Gaga was on hand at the Consumer Electronics Show to help Polaroid launch a new product. Her appearance created enormous buzz, but she dropped the F-bomb right in the middle of her remarks and the Polaroid CEO was actually booed when he appeared on-stage before the pop princess. Do the brand guardians at Polaroid actually enjoy seeing their boss booed and hissed before a major press conference? I know I sure wouldn’t. And, I’ve known more than a few CEOs who would fire an entire marketing or communications department for anything that disgraced him or the brand.

Polaroid’s unholy alliance with Lady Gaga may be driving a momentary sales spike. But, based upon her outlandish ways (a la her dress made of raw meat), I predict this is nothing more than an accident waiting to happen. Soon enough, we’ll read reports of Polaroid and Lady Gaga parting ways because of ‘creative differences.’ What that will really mean is someone at Polaroid finally woke up and said, “Why in god’s name do we want to entrust the brand’s image and reputation with a celebrity train wreck who’s gone off the tracks in the past and could drag us along with her in the future?”

Jan 10

The ultimate ambush interview

Every public relations professional fears the ambush interview. For the uninitiated, an ambush An_2_Apache_Ambush__1892_gouache_henry_farney_cowboy_weste interview is exactly what the phrase implies: a television ‘journalist’ ambushes an unsuspecting subject and makes him or her look very foolish, frightened or fraudulent in the process. And, if the genre has a founding father, it would have to be Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” fame.

I raise the ambush interview issue for two very different reasons:
1.)    Despite countless individuals and organizations having been savaged by ambush interviews, self-congratulatory, inward-focused and Kool-Aid drinking CEOs continue to put themselves in harm’s way by requesting off-the-record briefings in order to tell their side of the story in the midst of crisis. CEOs are best advised not to do so unless they’ve anticipated every conceivable negative question and have ironclad responses in hand.
2.)    I’ve just finished reading “The Kennedy Detail.” It’s written by one of the surviving members of the Secret Service detail entrusted with President John F. Kennedy’s safety and security, and is intended to set the record straight, once and for all. As something of a Kennedy assassination buff, I thought I knew all there was to know about the sad event. But, I did not. And, I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in learning more about November 22, 1963.

Near the end of the book, there’s a fascinating chapter about Clint Hill, who had been assigned to Mrs. Kennedy’s Secret Service detail. He was the agent who climbed aboard the president’s limousine just seconds after JFK had been mortally wounded. Twelve years after the shootings, Hill was invited to appear on 60 Minutes by Mike Wallace.

Hill agreed to do so only if Wallace promised not to probe into the details of the assassination. Wallace readily agreed and said he was really only looking to do a profile of the Secret Service itself. And, Wallace was true to word. The taping went well. Wallace asked Agent Hill about Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and the role of the Secret Service.

Then, a few days later, Wallace called Hill up and said there’d been a problem with one small section of the taping. He asked “Secret Service Agent #9” if he’d mind re-taping about five minutes of it. Hill agreed.

Now, double click on this link and watch what Wallace did to Hill: Hill-limo Mike Wallace Clint Hill 1975 "60 Minutes" Interview.

The media perform a valuable service in a free society. But, journalists such as Wallace are to be feared. His gotcha style of gonzo journalism devastated Hill, and exacerbated the agent’s downward spiral towards alcoholism and depression.

CEOs and their counselors would be well advised to watch the Secret Service Agent #9 clip before they decide to sit down for their next interview. The image and reputation they save may be their own.

Thanks and a special tip o’ RepMan’s climbing helmet to Edward M. Ted “Conspiracy Theory” Birkhahn for sending me the Clint Hill link.

Jan 07

Who’s The Boss!?

Today's post is by Peppercomer Ray Carroll.

First, I was brought on for resembling Brendan, and then hired fulltime as receptionist for projecting courtesy and hospitality.  Never would I’ve thought I’d receive an offer to be managing partner in my first year with the agency!  Although short-lived, my coup of the corner office was just as enlightening as it was rewarding.

B&I The front desk can be merciless, offering myriad tasks.  At other times it is placid.  There, I assist on many levels and have become facilitator in certain respects.  While I meet and greet clients, I rarely see our executives orchestrating their business. 

The idea of job swaps isn’t original, but a CEO trading places with a receptionist is new to me.  And, better yet, I was happy to be involved.  Following the trail blazed by erstwhile (couldn’t resist it) Peppercomers, I was anxious for my chance to overtake the reins as CEO.  The opportunity would provide insight into business beyond the lobby threshold.

Steve and I began this experience coincidently meeting outside our office building.  We rode the elevator together on route to conquer new domains.  Arriving on our floor, I bypassed my usual tasks and, was already convinced I had the better half of the arrangement.

Sprinting past the reception desk, I made a beeline for the boss’s office.  I relished my own space that boasted a huge desk, comfy couch, and Park Avenue view.  More impressive, I had an elite personal assistant at my beck-and-call.  

My morning agenda, at this point, seemed light and things were quiet.  I’d conclude an agency can’t evolve or prosper with a CEO sitting complacently at their desk.  My expectations became self-imposed, and I’d devise a few plans.  I questioned just how much I’d get away with in my new role.

I balked at tyranny, and I mulled over pranks and abuses of power that could’ve potentially jeopardized my returning the next day.  Choosing wisely, I gave Dandy an abridged version of my executive requests.  She politely rejected each one of my highfalutin ideas, and casually redirected my enthusiasm towards conference calls and caucuses. 

Confident in my new role, I summoned Peppercom’s president, Ted Birkhahn, into my office.  We discussed service trends and economic forces hindering top quality production from low-level positions.  Surprisingly, Ted dismissed my notion to double our receptionist’s salary.  We considered the relevance of job rotation, as well as potential benefits from swapping jobs with clients.  Staying true to impersonation, I tried convincing Ted to take part in a job swap of his own. 

Being part of Peppercom for nearly a year, it’s clear to me that leadership is a value shared both founders.  So, I next brought individuals into my office to speak about their professional development. We’d address account work, stressors, as well as experiences from the past year and future aspirations.  I also managed to finagle my way into a possible RepMan podcast with Paul Merchan.

Time was flying by and my afternoon was booked solid, so with a break coming up, I hit the gym.  I had my choice of equipment, so I jumped on a treadmill with a street view following it up with circuit training. I took note: physical wellness and mental prosperity go hand-in-hand.  It’d been too long since I’d last been to a gym, so, Steve, my heart and lungs thank you. 

I returned to the office and had lunch waiting; excellent timing before a few meetings.  By now I was ready to delve into what really makes Peppercom tick.  For the afternoon, Dandy had included me in every pertinent meeting, so now I’d witnessed the lifeblood of our company. 

Various teams of executives shuffled into my office with their expertise in tow.  We’d review client updates, plan outlines, and media strategy.  I saw our progress-tracking Harte chart, and joined in discussing technique to maximize capability within a scope of work.  I also joined a publicity team meeting, discussed leverage and positioning initiatives, and joined client conference calls. 

I found the job-swap to be an extremely eye opening experience.  I feel inspired and rejuvenated both mentally and physically.  While my current gig pays a few bills, I’ll strive for the caliber of job I held that day.  It’s tough passing up the rewards that wait as a direct result of your own dedicated efforts and success.  Mr. Cody: Thank You for the opportunity!

** My one regret: At my helm, our company’s image may have taken a direct hit.  Mismanagement of an entry-level position, by yours truly, will now prevent Andrea from ever referring us.

 

Jan 06

My apologies to Andrea

I did something yesterday that I guarantee no holding company CEO has EVER done. I swapped  42-20042220 jobs with Ray Carroll, our superb receptionist.

So, for a full day, I answered phones, made copies, welcomed visitors, modulated the temperature in the office and signed for multiple lunch orders placed by our hard-working staff (more to come on that).

It was an enlightening experience to say the least. I learned that being a receptionist can be the best of all worlds and the worst of all worlds. At its best, the job made me feel like a front-line brand ambassador empowered to make sure every person 'touching' the Peppercom brand had a positive experience.

At its worst, being a receptionist can resemble being stuck inside a video game. Phones were ringing off the hook, visitors were entering the lobby, employees were IMing requests for me to lower the heat and delivery guys were dropping off food. All at the same time! How do you spell stressful?

I'm proud to say that, with one glaring exception, I excelled in my new job. That exception, though, was a real beaut.

Right around noontime, three or four delivery guys arrived with lunch orders. I dutifully signed each receipt and began IMing the individuals to come to the front desk and retrieve their grub. Everyone responded except Andrea. That's when I realized we didn't have an Andrea working for us.
 
So, I sent an office-wide memo letting everyone know there was a free, unclaimed lunch waiting in the kitchen.

Now, fast forward 90 minutes. The elevator doors opened and in walked one of the delivery guys I'd met earlier along with a very agitated young woman. She charged up to the reception desk and barked, 'Do you have my lunch?' I smiled and said, 'And, you must be Andrea?'

Andrea (who I quickly learned works elsewhere in our building) nodded. I told her we had her lunch (happily, no one had claimed it). I went to retrieve it and handed it over with a smile. 'Where's the receipt?' She demanded. 'I used my credit card to place this order!'

I couldn't find the receipt anywhere. I remembered signing it but, with the total chaos of the moment, had lost track of it.

Andrea wasn't buying any of it. 'Look,' she said to me. 'You seem like a nice guy, but you have my credit card information.'

I assured her I wasn't an identity thief and promised to keep looking for the errant receipt. She was incredibly upset and lashed out at the delivery guy and me in heated Spanish. Not being fluent in the language, I wasn't sure what she was saying, but it certainly wasn't complimentary of my receptionist skills.

Andrea eventually left with her lunch (and minus her receipt). And, I went back to work, shaking like a leaf.

Being Ray Carroll for a day was an amazing experience that gave me all sorts of insights into the job, its critical role as part of the Peppercom brand promise and the importance of hanging onto receipts.

Oh, and what, you may ask, was Ray doing during the day? He experienced my daily existence: so, he sent several internal memos that were chock-a-block with inane, nonsensical comments. He went to the gym for a long workout. He attended various meetings and interrupted serious conversations with other inane, nonsensical comments. And, he answered my desperate IMs asking how to do his job.

So, here's a challenge to Andy Polansky, Richard Edelman, Pat Ford and all  the other CEOs of holding company PR firms: I dare you to step back from strategy, innovation and administration tasks for just one day and swap jobs with your receptionist. You'll learn things you never knew. Your receptionist will love being 'you' for a day. And, your employees will have a newfound respect for you. Just make sure to hang onto those damn receipts.

Jan 05

Be still my heart

Every now and then something positive occurs that renews my faith in the basic intelligence of  mankind.

Quiet-CarYesterday, I was struck by two such rare occurrences.

The first came while boarding NJ Transit's infamous 6:01pm to Long Branch. I say infamous because this particular train can rival LaGuardia for the number of indefinite delays.

But, no sooner do I board the dreaded Scoliosis Express than I hear the conductor announce the first and last cars had both been designated as 'silent'. He went on to say the use of cellphones and loud talking would be strictly prohibited.

Wow! There'd be no more Jersey Shore housewives screaming into their phones, 'But, Paulie, I told yous this morning to pick somethin' up for the kids!' No more groups of rowdy, Foster Beer-quaffing businessmen bragging about the world-class talents of their soccer-playing offspring. Not even a gaggle of old world garment district buyers lamenting the latest price cuts. Nothing. Not a peep. Just silence. Sweet, beautiful silence. Be still my heart. And, thank you, NJ Transit (did I actually just write those words?).

The second revelation came while scanning the pages of Ad Age on the now quiet-as-a-church mouse 6:01 (and, what's with church mice keeping quiet? Are they the only mice who do so? Are they in fact mute? I doubt it. In fact, I can't recall a single instance of bumping into a loudmouthed mouse. Church mice need to hire a PR firm).

Anyway, an Ad Age editorial informed me someone is finally doing something about impossible-to-open, atom bomb proof, skin-tearing product packaging.

Product packaging is one of the other true banes of my existence. I've spilled enough blood ripping open packages of Gillette Mach 3, Purina Cat Chow and Nature's Path Flax-Plus Granola to supply Haiti's needs for a  fortnight (actually, I'm not sure of Haiti's current need for blood, so the actual time frame may be more or less). But, man, have I ever bled as a direct result of some foolish package designer's intent to make these products more impregnable than Fort Knox.

But, wait! There's actually someone listening. Walmart (ugh) is challenging vendors to reduce the amount of packaging to cut carbon footprints. And, Amazon is launching 'frustration-free packaging.' Talk about an oxymoron.

Now, if only someone could create frustration-free commuting, I'd literally be home free. And, Paulie, yous really did drop the ball on getting dinner for the kids."

A quiet ride home and injury-free package opening experience may not seem like much to you but, in these days of 24×7 doom-and-gloom news, they're bright, shining lights for this battered and bruised consumer.

Jan 04

The Ghetto of the Workplace

Ever stop to wonder why so many companies have such poor customer service? Emily Yellin knows Loyalty3 why.

Ms. Yellin is the author of 'Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us'. It's a riveting read of all that's wrong with customer service.

She calls customer service the “ghetto of the workplace,” a twilight zone in which people are overworked, underpaid and stressed to the max. 

In her book, Ms. Yellin explains why so many organizations see customer service as a necessary evil and why so few treat it as a strategic competitive advantage. She was also nice enough to discuss the subject on a recent PepperTown Hall podcast

Yes, says Ms. Yellin, there ARE a few enlightened companies that actually stress quality over quantity and believe that customer service is the new PR. Zappos is one example. CEO Tony Hsieh made the decision to move his strategic, front-office executives to Las Vegas so they could be housed right alongside their call center peers. Why? Because Hsieh believes the phone is his “…best branding device.” Zappos receives 2 million calls a year, so the better the user experience, the more repeat customers it will have. It seems so simple. So, why do so many of us still have horrific user experiences?

Ms. Yellin says poor customer service is the direct result of an indifferent management mindset. Most companies, she says, marginalize customer service in their corporate hierarchy. They'll spend millions on branding, but a mere pittance on competent, quality-focused customer care. Is it any wonder then why there are so many loutish, insensitive CSRs?

Ms. Yellin asks how our lives would change if, say, the head of customer service at an airline or cable company was the second highest paid officer. Or, if being a customer service agent were a well-paid, coveted career position that led to office management. So far, only a few brave companies have taken those steps. But, she says, they've thrived as a result.

I'm all about improving Peppercom's customer service. We've already conducted a 'customer journey' that examined 20 separate communication touch points potential customers and other key audiences have with us. We fared well in many but fell short in others. Recognizing that customer service is, indeed, the new PR, we're making quick upgrades, though. And, we're forcing ourselves to experience Peppercom the way a prospective client or employee would.

Oh, and one more thing. I'm going to walk the talk when it comes to better understanding the experience of our most crucial customer service employees as well. I'll be sitting at the reception desk all day tomorrow. Trust me, your call WILL BE important to me.

Jan 03

A different type of New Year’s resolution

DSCN5007 'Tis the season for resolutions, so I figured I'd share mine.

Unlike many, I have no need to quit smoking, lose weight or tackle new physical challenges. Ice climbing, long distance cycling and stand-up comedy fill those ‘voids’ very nicely, thank you.

My resolution is more of an emotional one. I resolve not to let professional and personal setbacks upset me to the degree they have in the past.

If a significant client cuts us loose, so be it. If a close friend decides to cut me off, c'est la vie. And, if the Mets continue to cut a wide swath through the N.L. East's cellar, that'll be ok, too.

I won't these other pet peeves bother me either:

– The Lexus 'December to Remember' TV commercials. Is there ANYTHING more obnoxious?
– PR awards' programs that allow large agencies to submit countless entries and dominate each and every category.
– Endless NJ Transit train delays.
– New Jersey's horrible image. The real armpit of the tri-state area is Wrong Island.
– Sarah Palin's nonsensical, moronic statements.
– Politicians who refuse to work with one another to solve our nation's ills.
– PR Week's hagiographic cover profiles of chief communications officers (the only thing missing are the halos).
– The latest transgression by a Catholic priest.
– Yet another heating or air conditioning glitch from the fine folks at 470 Park Avenue South.
– Unsolicited e-mails from new business rainmakers, database management experts and a certain Mr. Brown from Nigeria who needs my banking information in order to transfer some $7 million into my account.

So, bring on the New Year and its challenges. I pledge not to overreact to disloyal clients and friends or rude and uncommunicative NJ Transit train conductors.

If I should find myself slipping though, I know I need only schedule a few days of ice or rock climbing with Art Mooney (www.mooneymountainguides.com). It's the single best cure for what ails me and the best way for me to assure I deliver on my 2011 resolutions.

So, how about you? What are your 2011 resolutions?