Feb 10

Congressdog Mick Cody resigns after posting ‘inappropriate’ photo on RoversList; Apologizes for ‘mistake’ but says it will ‘elevate’ his image in long run

Lincroft, NJ, February 10, 2011-  Congressdog Mick Cody (C-NJ) announced his resignation today  Mickens in the aftermath of a scandal created when he posted an 'inappropriate' photograph of himself on the popular animal social website, RoversList.

The political brouhaha broke late Wednesday when an unidentified feline blogger released a full transcript of her e-mail dialogue with the Congressdog. Photographs of a topless Mick were attached to one of his e-mails.

In one e-mail exchange with the cat, Mick described himself as “… a single, five-year-old, 35-pound stray who digs bones and boney felines.” Information provided on the Congressdog's website shows the pit bull terrier is actually eight years old, weighs 50 pounds, and lists Cody's younger brother, Rooney, as his “life partner.”

Cody rose to political prominence in the aftermath of the Michael Vick/pit bull scandal. Along with Rooney, Mick created the Conservative Canine Coalition and ran for Congress as a “genuine Beltway outsider” who promised to literally “bite the hand of any politician advocating for deficit spending.”

Reached for comment in between episodes of his favorite Animal Planet show, ‘It's Me or the Dog,' Mick seemed resigned to his resignation.

“Sure, I made a mistake,” he snarled. “I apologize to my family, my constituents and my breed. But, this was pure entrapment by that feline activist group.”

The former Congressdog insists he was lured to RoverList's by a feline blogger known as Kitty Whiskers. “She said she could deliver the cat vote in the upcoming midterms,” whined Cody. “Then, she said if I wanted, she could deliver a whole lot more than that. That's like dangling raw meat in front of a red-blooded pit bull like me.”

A spokescat for Forever Felines, the cat advocacy group, denied any knowledge or involvement in the incident. “We're independent creatures and would never lead on a member of another species, especially pit bulls. Yuck!”

Mick Cody sees a silver lining in what would seem to be an otherwise dark cloud. “This will elevate my image in the long run. In fact, the phone's already ringing off the hook with offers from reality TV shows. Bravo's 'Real Housedogs of New Jersey' has expressed interest. So has MTV's 'Six Months and Pregnant.' The Congressdog indicated he's also been offered a continuing role in ‘Parker Spitzer’. “They want me to sit on the governor's lap during the show and howl whenever I agree with something he's said,” added Cody.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Canine Coalition said their leader's spectacular flameout will not deter the group's future. “We'll miss Mick and wish him well, but there are 50 million dogs out there who need representation,” said Spike Drool.

Rooney Cody did not return calls from this blog.

Feb 09

What’s the biggest difference between the advertising and PR trades?

The very best advertising agencies do one thing incredibly well for their clients. Having gleaned Leonardogillesfleur_Irreconcileable_differences_43_904 insights from an end user's wants and needs, they'll create a compelling campaign that creates an emotional connection between a brand and its target audience. When done correctly, it's positively magical.

To their credit, though, ad agencies never, ever, attempt to advertise their own services in the industry trade media read by clients, prospects and peers.

The same cannot be said for PR firms. Our industry trades are littered with myopic, self-congratulatory ads that provide no insight whatsoever on the client's or prospect's world but, instead, focus squarely on what the PR firm feels sets it apart from the competition. And, that dear reader, is a cardinal sin.

Advertising should be about you. Not me. It should prompt a visceral reaction that leaves you nodding your head and mumbling, 'Yeah. That's me. That's my need. I need to know more about how they can help me.'

Instead, a sampling of recent PR agency advertising headlines seem more like a print version of the old grammar school trick of seeing who could attract the teacher's attention fastest. “Oh, pick me, Ms. Dresner. I know the answer. Pick me!”

To wit, check out these headlines:
– 'Real. Creative.'
– 'Two campers see a bear. Yada. Yada. Yada.'
– 'Telling the story of innovation.'
– 'Go. Ahead.'
– 'Who's in your circle?'
– 'Way more effective'

With the possible exception of the penultimate headline, each and every ad is self-serving. None create an emotional connection with the end user (Note: I'd include our own inward-facing advertisement in my criticism. Doctor: Heal thyself.).

That said, there are a few exceptions to the abysmal state of PR firm advertising. Carmichael Lynch Spong's campaign is both unexpected and client-focused. Their most recent one is entitled, 'They loved the launch. So what about the next 364 days?' That's spot on. It tells me, as a prospective client, that CLS knows I need to keep showing results to my senior management.

Another campaign from an earlier generation of management at Ogilvy PR was just as effective. It depicted a harried corporate communications executive, checking his watch and looking for a cab. The headline read something to the effect, 'We know you live in a 24×7 world and need a partner who does the same.' It's promotional to be sure. But, it also told me that Ogilvy PR ‘got' the prospective client's pain.

The worst PR agency ads are the ones listing the various awards won by the firm in the previous 12 months: “Best Workplace,” “Best Young Professional,” “Best Industry Blog”, “Best Use of Artwork in a Hallway,” “Cleanest Restrooms,100 Employees or Less,” etc. Enough already. Clients don't care about your awards. They care about their challenges.

I think the editors and publishers of PR trades should do more than accept insertion orders and checks from agencies. They should provide some sort of counsel on advertising effectiveness.

There's a reason ad agencies don't advertise. They know it's next to impossible to create an emotional connection with a harried CMO in one page of copy. If only PR firms would wake up and realize the same truth.

Feb 08

The Maritel bucket

This blog is dedicated to Peppercommers Deb Schleuter-Brown-Schleuter and Jackie Kolek.

Ever find yourself at the bottom of the Maritel bucket? I'll bet you have; you just use another  Old_bucket phrase to describe the experience.

We find ourselves at the bottom of the Maritel bucket every few years. It's just happened in fact. We were awarded a nice piece of business in December, finalized the plan over the holidays and were about to kick things off when, hold onto your hats, we were told we had to pitch the business all over again. It was a classic Maritel bucket scenario: You win an account only to be told a few minutes, days or weeks later that, no, in fact, you didn't win the account after all.
 
The Maritel bucket phrase originated in those hallowed, halcyon, shoot-from-the-hip dotcom days. A firm by the name of Maritel contacted us one morning, requested a meeting early that same afternoon and called to award us a sizable piece of business before 5 pm. They then called back to say someone had made a terrible mistake and, that Maritel had no interest whatsoever in public relations. The absurdity of the whole experience was so extreme that it became memorialized as the Maritel bucket.
 
 We've had other bucket experiences:
 
– A huge chemical company's SVP of human resources adored us and was in the process of handing us all of the corporation's internal communications and collateral work. The plans and budgets were approved and we were set to go. But, suddenly, 'John' stopped returning our calls. A week later, we called the main line to discover he'd been terminated. Bye-bye million dollar program.
 
– A technology company that provided software for Wall Street was poised to spend lots of money to overtake SunGuard, the market leader. And, the new marketing guru had chosen us. We got off to a strong start, attended several meetings and then, poof, our contact was gone. A day or two later, an executive called to say 'Randy' had had no authority to hire us, had  been terminated and oh, by the way, they'd like their money back. With a signed LOA, time sheets and status reports to prove we'd done the work, they backed off.

– The SVP of marketing for a Scient, Sapient, Razorfish wanna-be hired us to the tune of $35k per month. Their marketing goal: to do and say exactly what the front runners did so that they, too, could go the IPO route and retire as multimillionaires. They not only never paid us for our three months of work, but demanded their money returned with interest. They then went belly up.
 
I'd love to create some sort of industry-wide Maritel bucket hall of shame (and would welcome your case studies, BTW).
 
In fact, the Maritel bucket could become a catch-all phrase for a new category in all the PR industry awards programs (“And, this year's Maritel bucket winner for the worst abuse of a PR firm goes to …”).
 
Ask not for whom the Maritel bucket waits. It waits for thee.

Feb 07

Sorry, but this is my elevator

Erstwhile Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal had his own private elevator at corporate headquarters. Fatcat-banker-1 After being deposited at a separate, ground floor entrance by his liveried driver, Mr. O'Neal would stroll into 'his' elevator and zoom upwards to his world-class corner office on the 32nd floor. When he was done mastering the universe for the day, good ol' Stan would take a few steps, push the elevator button, descend down and be met by his driver.  All in all, not a bad day. 

But, O'Neal was canned after racking up some $30b in toxic assets and trying to sell Merrill without the board's knowledge. He was replaced by former NYSE CEO John Thain who, upon hearing of O'Neal's private elevator, declared it “…ludicrous.” Thain wanted to demonstrate his Midwestern, common man roots, so he began riding up and down in the same elevators as the hoi palloi. Goodness gracious! Such sacrifice. 

Ah, but according to Greg Farrell's page-turning 'The Crash of the Titans,' JayThay was no slouch himself when it came to excess. Along with his PR henchwoman, Margaret Tutwiler, Thain completely gutted O'Neal's corner office and refurbished it to the tune of $1.2m (all this while Merrill was capsizing under a crushing debt). JayThay's also the stand-up dude who decided to pay all the Merrill executives huge, year-end bonuses with government TARP monies. That sly maneuver cost him his job when Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who had just bought Thain's Merrill at a fire sale price, found out.

I miss the wanton greed of those egomaniacal Wall Street CEOs of yesteryear. I'm sure the current crop still buy themselves $4,000 commode seats and $100,000 area rugs, but the Kublai Khan types such as O'Neal, Thain and convicted felon Dennis Kozlowski, seem like a distant, if fond, memory.

So, in an effort to fill the breach and re-position PR executives as masters of the universe in our own right, I've decided on the following:

– A full-time butler. Sure, I'm dressed in business casual most of the time, but one never knows when a suit-and-tie prospect will come a knocking. And, I'll need Jeeves on the payroll to assure I'm neatly pressed and ready to impress.
– My own elevator. I may only travel five floors, but I need to make a statement.
– A full-time assistant for my assistant. O'Neal and Thain each had multiple assistants to assist their other assistants, so why can't I? Effective immediately, Dandy assumes the title of executive vice president (hey, if Margaret Tutwiler could hold that title at Merrill, and be responsible solely for “…burnishing John Thain's image,” then so can Dandy). Hey Dandy, maybe Mags could be your assistant? She may be in need of employment.
– A liveried driver behind the wheel of a Maybach. Thain paid his driver $225k, plus bonuses for overtime. That seems fair. I'm tired of cabbies. A master of the universe needs coddling. But, I'll call my driver Jimbo, instead of James. I also need to project a more down-to-earth image and Jimbo seems more accessible.

I have many more wants and needs but, based upon the outrage caused by the excesses of Messrs, O'Neal, Thain and Kozkowlski, I'm guessing I'll only have about 10 months or so before being kicked out and handed a golden parachute similar in size to theirs (say, $187 million, or so).

Edelman and Weber may be vying for “the World's Largest Agency”, but I'll be content with being named “the World's Most Exorbitant.” Note to the various awards' programs: that might make for a nice, new category.

Feb 03

Sorry kids. But, you can’t blame genes for those tight jeans

A just-released study conducted by the University of Michigan of some 1,000 sixth graders in Obese_boy the state showed proper diet, regular exercise and less television viewing had a dramatic effect on lessening childhood obesity. The study is among the first to prove that even if obesity is linked to one's genetics, it can be combated with a little common sense. In other words, obese kids and their parents will need to find other excuses to explain their bulging waistlines.

Michigan is faring poorly in its battle of the bulge. The state ranks 41st in the nation for highest childhood obesity rates, and a staggering 21 percent of Detroit's kids qualify as obese. That means one in five is likely to suffer weight-related health problems, placing a further strain on our nation's already beleaguered health care system.

U.S. childhood obesity also reinforces a global perspective that America is a lazy, bloated, self-centered superpower whose best days are past.

We still have time to change our wanton ways, though:

– First, we need to stop blaming obesity on genetics. Statements such as: “Why bother dieting and exercising when my DNA has already determined I'll be morbidly obese by the age of 21?” should be countered with the Michigan study facts.

– Second, the government needs to push our nation's public schools to do a better job of educating kids about the importance of exercise and diet.

– Third, parents need to step up to the plate (figuratively, not literally) and better manage their kids' lifestyles (two hours a day sitting in front of a television or computer screen is unacceptable).

– Last, and certainly not least, fast food makers need to stop marketing their mega-whopper, calorie-laden, artery-clogging meals in friendly, wholesome ways (replete with smiling clowns). I think the surgeon general should insist these bacchanalian feasts carry warning labels to the effect: 'This Happy Meal will make you and your body unhappy. It will add empty calories, help raise cholesterol levels and lead to a host of diseases, including diabetes.'

It pains me to see what's happening to our nation's youth. At least, they no longer have the genes/jeans excuse. I guess that's a step in the right direction. Now, kids, it's time to put down the Cheetos, turn off the tube and start getting the old ticker pumping away. You may be saving your own, and the nation's, health and well-being in the process.

Feb 02

The shoemaker’s children

Conventional wisdom holds that, like the shoemaker who is so busy making shoes for others that Barefoot-shoes he neglects his own kids, advertising and PR agencies don’t do a good job of promoting themselves. That’s simply not the case.

More and more advertising agencies are taking publicity seriously. (Note: They have to. Their traditional business model is imploding as you read this.) And, some public relations firms have absolutely mastered the art of self-promotion.

Our agency publicity team has absolutely excelled at the task, as witnessed by this just-released Dow Jones analysis. As you’ll see, Peppercom ranks fifth among all midsized agencies for most publicity garnered during the year 2010. And, that’s a good thing. A very good thing. It means we’re breaking through the clutter and connecting with the world of prospective and current clients in terms of sharing our point of view on matters of importance. But, in surveying both the midsized and large-sized agencies on the list, I can also state that not all the publicity generated by these firms has been positive.

Take Hill & Knowlton, for example. As I wrote in a previous blog, H&K has suffered a series of high-level executive and client defections. Both have produced enormous negative news and speculation. Another large agency, Cohn & Wolfe, received a ton of negative publicity for publicly airing a feud it was having with one of its best known clients. In fact, CEO Donna Imperato’s barbed statement about her erstwhile client was selected by PR Week as ‘the most memorable’ of 2010. That’s one PR Week award no agency wants to win.

Other firms made the list simply because they specialize in providing counsel to publicly-traded companies that are in the midst of a merger or acquisition. The firm’s name appears automatically in just about any business coverage of the event, so their publicity is a foregone conclusion.

I’m proud of our team’s achievement and hope we can move up the Dow Jones ranks in 2011. My only caveat, though, is the publicity we generate about ourselves should be of the positive variety. I’d rather be like the shoemaker’s child than caught up in the harsh glare of the media’s spotlight. That’s the wrong type of agency publicity.

I’d list Peppercom in that group. From day one, I’ve insisted we set aside time for a team of employees to promote Peppercom’s thought leadership as well as general news and announcements. In fact, we strive to produce far more of the former than the latter, believing clients and prospects judge us on our ability to craft thought-provoking original material covering issues of concern to them.
Feb 01

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

I don't consider myself a great boss but, according to an article published by the Communications Minime Executive Council, at least I don't qualify as “a nightmare to work for.”

The CEC's Human Resource program says all bosses, even the great ones, struggle in the same three areas:

– Evaluating employee performance
– Providing effective feedback
– Turning around underperformance

I'd give myself a B-plus in the first area, a C-plus in the second and a C in the last (I'm still working on turning Ed around).

The report also lists the five warning signs that you, dear reader, may be a bad boss. They include:

1.)    Meetings happen without you. That's certainly not true in my case. My office should have a revolving door. Meetings occur around the clock.
2.)    Problems blow up before you hear about them. I've always known about the big problems BEFORE they've blown up. That said, I have been caught by surprise when an employee or client walked on us.
3.)    You don't know what your employees care about or enjoy doing. Not this boss. Thanks to our stand-up comedy training, I'm up to speed on more things about each of our employees than even they probably want me to know. I know one employee, for example, hates flying with her Mom. I know another one is a world class Hip Hop dancer. And, I know a third suffers from chronic stomach problems. TMI, no?
4.)    Your people don't know where they stand. We provide standard oral and written feedback and give raises and promotions based on performance alone. There are no teacher's pets at Peppercom. Well, Ted was a teacher's pet for a while, but not anymore.
5.)    No one disagrees with you. Everyone disagrees with me, even our interns. Seriously, I can't tell how many times I float an idea on e-mail only to see it shot down like a low-flying Stuka dive bomber over London circa 1940.

The CEC report is a useful checklist to help bosses at any level improve their leadership abilities. It's a critical factor when one considers the old aphorism: people quit people, not organizations. And, I know for a fact that certain PR firms have a poor image precisely because the head honcho is a horrible boss.

So, do me a favor: if you're a boss, tell me how you fare against this checklist. And, if you're an employee, let me know how your boss measures up. This is an area in which every one of us can learn something.