Apr 28

Does anyone read in-flight magazines?

Do you read in-flight magazines? You know the ones I'm talking about, right? They're shoved into  an airplane's seat back right alongside the evacuation instructions and vomit bag.

Since I've been traveling relentlessly of late, I've decided to pass my time during the endless delays to observe my fellow passengers to see if any actually picked up and read the magazines. No one did. Not a soul. Not the morbidly obese man on my left or the pajama-clad, trailer park denizen on my right. And, I'm positive the toddler sitting directly behind me and repeatedly kicking my seatback wasn't flipping through the articles eitArticle-1200719-005E374800000258-743_468x330her.

This wouldn't matter if airlines weren't relentlessly cutting costs and adding a la carte pricing faster than you can say sleeping air traffic controllers. 

Just imagine how much money every airline could save (and pass along to passengers) if they did away with in-flight magazines. The publications serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever except to show me diagrams of various airports and maps of the world. (So, that's where Ceylon is, eh?)

Back in the mid-13th century when I plied my PR trade as an account executive, securing a placement in an in-flight magazine was a HUGE deal. In fact, most clients considered it an A-level hit, right alongside a Times article or GMA appearance. I guess that's because, in the days before iPads, iPods and laptops became ubiquitous, airline passengers actually read the damn magazines. Nowadays, though, I can't think of a single new business proposal or year-long plan that so much as even mentions gaining publicity in an in-flight magazine.

So, why do they still exist? You'd think one of the more progressive airlines such as JetBlue or Southwest would have banned them years ago, announced the move as a further reflection of their eco-friendly ways and made a big splash about passing along the cost savings in a massive advertising campaign. Nah, that would be too obvious.

Sometimes the easiest solutions are the ones staring you right in the face. So, here's hoping some airline executive wakes up and cancels his in-flight magazine order at the same time he gives air traffic controllers a little more vacation time. The flying public would thank him for both.

Apr 27

PR’s answer to Don Draper

Long before 'Sex & the City', 'The Hills' and 'Kell on Earth', there was What Makes Sammy Run?

310-1 For those of you unfamiliar with the 1941 book, it was written by the legendary Budd Schulberg (best known for his Academy Award-winning “On the Waterfront” screenplay).

What Makes Sammy Run? follows the sleazy, backstabbing ways of Hollywood publicist, Sammy Glick. Although dated, I highly recommend it for anyone plying the PR trade, or aspiring to do so.

I also highly recommend a far more obscure tome entitled, The Build-up Boys. It was written by someone named Jeremy Kirk and first published in 1951. Unlike La-La Land's Press Agent Extraordinaire Sammy Glick, however, Kirk's protagonist is a New York and Washington, D.C.-based public relations “agency man.”

Although The Build-up Boys reads more like a Raymond Chandler detective novel than an insider's view of PR, it's funny as hell and, sadly, still highly relevant. To wit, check out this passage: 

“There were about as many ethics in the public relations racket as in a contest to see who could gouge out the most eyes.” Ouch.

The build-up boys tracks the progress of “…Clint Lorimer, a smart and ruthless operator who had every qualification for success as a public relations expert except for a small, deeply-buried shred of self-respect.” It also follows Anne Tremaine, “…an advertising agency expert who was successively Clint's partner, mistress and boss.” Sounds just like any of today's prime-time TV dramas, no?

In fact, Clint Lorimer is PR's answer to Don Draper. He has an answer for every client and a wink for every attractive woman. And, like the quintessential Mad Man, Lorimer positively thrives when the chips are down.

He even delivers some of the same strategies we would suggest in similar circumstances today (i.e. His firm represents a failing dairy company that's tanking because its CEO would rather deliver milk bottles at sunrise than examine P&L statements at sunset. When Clint meets the shrinking violet of a CEO and his marketing chief, he recommends doubling both the advertising and PR budgets. The clients are incredulous. “Are you nuts?” asks the marketing chief. “Nope,” says Lorimer. “We're going to feature your CEO in a national ad and PR campaign about a big man who's not too big to do a little man's job. John Q. Public will eat it up and wash it down with your milk.”). It's a brilliant suggestion and exactly the strategy I'd recommend today.

Sammy Glick and Clint Lorimer are sexist, unscrupulous and, at times, loathsome. But, they're also successful PR executives who GET business strategy. I'd recommend any student of PR analyze the protagonists' professional approaches, deep-six their personal proclivities and see if you don't learn a new trick or two from these old dogs. Oh, and here's one other reason to read both: there are still plenty of Sammy Glicks and Clint Lorimers out there. Knowing what makes a Don Draper type tick will make it that much easier for you when you eventually bump into him.

And a tip o' Repman's straw boater to Thomas Joseph Powers, Jr. for this idea.

Apr 26

Hey nineteen

I first became aware of the yawning information gap between my generation and Millennials on  Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was there, while taking a break at 15,000 feet, that I happened to mention the seminal TV character, 'Archie Bunker.' My son, Chris, and our climbing buddy, Stafford, both Millennials, responded with a resounding, “Who”?Confused-Man

In fact, the more we spoke about events of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the more I was reminded of the Steely Dan song, 'Hey Nineteen' (“No, we got nothing in common. No, we can't talk at all.”).

Since the dilly on Kili, I've encountered many examples of a twenty-something not knowing what I thought was pretty basic information about the people, places and things of my era.

In fact, my curiosity began to grow as I compared the information gap between Millennials and Boomers, and what I believed was the LACK of such a gap between Boomers and our parents (aka The Greatest Generation). While Millennials seemed stumped about many things that happened before 1990, my generation appears to know quite a bit about, say, Benny Goodman, the Sudetenland and Fibber McGee's Closet (even though we weren't alive to see or experience any of the above).

So, I put my hypothesis to the test. I asked Peppercom's Millennials if they knew about 10 people, places and things from my generation. I was pleasantly surprised overall, but positively stunned by the following:

– 80 percent had never heard of Glasnost (that would be like my generation not knowing about 'appeasement').
– 50 percent didn't know about the Iran-Contra Affair (easily the biggest political scandal to hit Washington after Watergate and before Monica Lewinsky).
– 90 percent had never heard of Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. ice hockey team that pulled off the biggest upset in Olympic history. Eruzione was the team's poster child, a media darling and appeared positively EVERYWHERE).
– 60 percent didn't know former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle (now, some may argue that Dan Quayle himself might have a hard time identifying 41's VP, but would Baby Boomers blank on Richard M. Nixon? Hardly).
– 40 percent didn't remember Bo Jackson, arguably the greatest, all-around athlete of the 1980s. (He was also the star of Nike's 'Bo knows' global ad campaign. Bo may know, but Millennials sure don't know Bo).

I'll leave it to sociologists, historians and other experts to explain why so many Millennials seem to know so little about so much that came before. But, it doesn't bode well since, as we know, those who don't learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.

So, what do you Boomer and Millennial readers make of all this? How about you Gen X types? Why does the information gap exist? Perhaps, even more alarmingly, will the coming generation be even LESS aware of the recent past than their Millennial predecessors? If so, Archie Bunker would undoubtedly have called them "meatheads".

Apr 25

Dear Prudence

A recently published book entitled, The Longevity Project puts the lie to conventional wisdom  about the keys to a long and healthy life. Authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, picked up on an original study that began in 1921 with 1,528 San Francisco 11-year-olds and analyzed what personality traits and lifestyle choices made some members of the original cohort far outlive their peers.

Happy-old-folksGuess what? Things such as optimism, happiness, a good marriage and the ability to handle stress didn’t rate very highly. Instead, the “…best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness. The qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person wins out every time.” And, that has to be very bad news for those of you who double and triple book meetings and/or maintain sloppy cubicles.

he exhaustive study also confirmed what I’d always read and believed: “Genes constitute about one-third of the factors leading to a long life. The other two-thirds have to do with lifestyle and chance.”

When one looks beneath the surface, it’s easy to see why prudence and persistence are so important to longevity say the authors. Conscientious people are more likely to live healthy lifestyles, to not smoke or drink to excess, wear seat belts and follow doctors’ orders. Prudent and persistent people also tend to find themselves in healthier, happier workplaces and personal relationships. They also understand the importance of stress. “There’s a misconception about stress,” says Dr., Friedman. “People think everyone should take it easy. Rather, he says, “a hard job that is also stressful, but which enables people to eventually succeed, leads to a longer life.” So much for retiring to Del Boca Vista and playing golf every day.

One finding really struck home with me. Optimism has a huge downside. “If you’re cheerful, very optimistic, especially in the face of illness and recovery, if you don’t consider the possibility that you might have setbacks, than those setbacks are harder to deal with.” says Dr. Martin. “If you’re one of those people who think everything’s fine–the stress of failure, because you haven’t been more careful, is harmful. You almost set yourself up for more problems.”

I may die tomorrow, but I have to say The longevity Project made me smile for a number of reasons. First, because by recognizing that I was working in a toxic environment in the mid-1990s, I walked away from it and, along with Ed, created a workplace I knew I’d enjoy. Second, and this sentence is aimed directly at our firm’s management committee, I have always considered myself a ‘realist’ when it comes to such things as new business presentations, employee issues, economic downturns or other fundamental challenges.  As a result, I never expect to win a big, new piece of business, retain an important employee who’s being wooed away by a competitor or change the mindset of a clique within Peppercom who take exception to a particular management decision. My peers call me a pessimist. Rather, I’m doing exactly what the authors suggest is a key ingredient to longevity: I’m not setting myself up for more problems by being overly optimistic.

Anyway, that’s my take on The Longevity Project. What’s yours? Sorry, but I’ve got to run. I have another 40 years to live.

Apr 21

What, me worry?

Stress CareerCast.com has just confirmed what many of us in the wonderful world of public relations already knew: we work in a highly stressful field. In fact, according to CareerCast.com, PR is the SECOND most stressful occupation in America, landing just behind commercial airline pilot. 

In its rankings, CareerCast evaluated 11 different factors such as: work environment, job competitiveness, physical demands (I'll say. Laptops must weigh, what? Two pounds or more? Talk about heavy lifting), deadlines, on-the-job dangers (our men's room would certainly qualify) and even the job's growth potential.

Zeroing in on PR, Publisher Tony Lee said PR people are '….completely at the mercy of their clients and buyers.' He notes that '….the average PR person's success or failure depends on the actions and decisions of clients, creating a stressful situation because their performance is in many ways out of their hands.' To which I say, 'Amen, brother.'

But, CareerCast really only scratches the surface. Sure, there's a lot of stress in PR, but it varies widely. For example:

– There's far more stress in corporate PR jobs because, for the most part, PR is seen as an 'overhead expense' and, along with human resources, is always the first to be downsized in lean times.

– Big holding company PR firm cultures exude far more stress for myriad reasons that include, but are not limited to:

A) Having to simultaneously serve multiple masters (the holding company CEO, the client and the various predators circling the agency's shark-infested waters looking to consolidate their power bases).

B) Having to walk away from countless new business opportunities because of existing conflicts.

C) Trying to stand out from hundreds, if not thousands, of peers. Being a small fish in a large, politically-charged pond is no fun (I know. I experienced it first-hand at Hill & Knowlton in the early 1980s).

That's not to say that life at an independent, midsized PR firm is a bowl of cherries. Far from it. But, we do exercise a far greater degree of control over our fates. And, in periods of growth, I can't think of a better place to be.

All that said, it took me many moons to figure out I needed a personal escape valve to deal with stress. That valve now includes ice, rock and mountain climbing, cycling, running, stand-up comedy and gyrotonic (check out the latter, btw. I highly recommend it for stress reduction).

PR is stressful. But I'd never equate it with piloting a commercial airliner. While some agency leaders may think they make life and death decisions every day, they don't. There are no 'Sully's' in PR who have miraculously managed to land a jet in the middle of the Hudson River. Our occupation just isn't that bad.

Nor is PR as stressful as some of the occupations rounding out CareerCast's Top 10 list: photojournalist, emergency medical technician or newscaster.

And, I wasn't too impressed with the web site's 10 least stressful jobs either. Dental hygienist, occupational therapist and chiropractor finished fifth, ninth and tenth, respectively. All three require a thorough knowledge of the human anatomy and, while not akin to open heart surgery (and, no one can convince PR is more stressful than operating on someone else's heart), things can go south very quickly if one of these health care providers either injures a patient or, worse, happens to be practicing their craft when the patient goes into cardiac arrest.

So, thanks for the PR profession shout-out, CareerCast, but I suggest you either 're-cast' your methodology, examine the 'real' life-and-death occupations within the medical field and do a better job of segmenting the PR profession. While I wouldn't want the stress of running a global holding company PR firm or reporting to a hard-charging, unpredictable Fortune 500 CEO, I'm really enjoying my life in the independent midsized world.

I have stressful days, but I've yet to find myself on final descent into Reagan National Airport only to discover the air traffic controller is fast asleep. Now, that's what I call stress.

Apr 20

You are what your customers say you are

Richard Edelman’s recent blog on the changing nature of public relations and whether we should  embrace the broader term of ‘communications’ to describe our services misses the mark in my humble opinion. The ‘PR vs. media relations vs. marketing communications vs. integrated marketing’ debate has been raging as long as I’ve been in the profession. And, after all these years, it’s just as meaningless as ever.

AndertoonsWith all due respect, Mr. Edelman’s point-by-point rationale for why we agencies should cling to the term public relations to describe ourselves reflects top-down, inside-out thinking. It really doesn’t matter how we define our solution set. The only thing that matters is how clients and prospective clients define it. 

Clients and prospects are less concerned about choosing an advertising, public relations, digital or direct firm than they are in understanding how best to engage in conversations with an ever-changing, incredibly demanding stakeholder base. They want partners who understand the 5Ws of those conversations and who will not only help guide them through a best practices approach for engaging in them but, critically, how to create messages that will then be placed in motion by stakeholders.

To provide a different perspective on the same subject, the following companies can launch all the integrated marketing campaigns they like, and I’ll still think of them the way I choose. To wit:
-    McDonald’s may be distancing themselves from their iconic Ronald McDonald character and introducing healthy alternatives to their menu, but I’ll always see them as a chief enabler of America’s obesity epidemic.
-    Starbucks may provide world-class training for their baristas, select blends from exotic locales and provide uber cool venues, but I’ll always think of them as the guys who sell high-priced, bitter-tasting coffee.
-    Comcast may laud its ‘comcastic’ service in TV spots, but I’ll continue to think ill of them each and every month when they ‘inadvertently’ disable my on-demand service.

Edelman can keep calling itself a PR firm. And, others can call themselves what they choose. I just want clients and prospective clients calling Peppercom when they need a strategic partner that understands how and where constituent audiences are engaging in meaningful conversations. That’s the true bottom line of the name game.

Apr 19

The death of the role model

Remember role models? They were the athletes, celebrities and other influencers who we looked  up to as kids. Mine included Joe Namath, Paul McCartney and Muhammad Ali. And, while each had a dark side (Joe Willie had a fondness for the ladies, Sir Paul liked his hallucinogenic drugs and Ali perfected, if not invented, trash talk), none ever purposely endorsed products that were bad for kids.

Snoop-dogg-smokingBut, that was then and this is now. Now, we have role models such as Charlie Sheen, Barry Bonds and the Kardashians. They're all train wrecks. But, their personal lives aside, some of today's role models have become dangerous because they're endorsing products and services that are anything but good for our nation's kids.

Take Snoop Dogg. Please.

  An article in Monday's New York Times profiles a new advertising campaign for Blast from Colt .45. Snoop stars in the fully integrated campaign. In a YouTube video, for example, the Dogg poses in a white fur coat, surrounded by models in skimpy dress and holding a can of Blast. So what's my problem? Well, it turns out that Blast is the latest, coolest, cutest and hippest gateway beverage that introduces kids to the wonderful world of alcohol. One alcohol industry watchdog calls Blast, which comes in flavors such as grape and raspberry watermelon, an “alcopop."

Tom Burrell, author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, says: “What is happening here is an obvious attempt to foist this stuff on young African-American men. Colt .45 has invested in the black consumer market for years, and if they weren't looking for an African-American audience they wouldn't be using Snoop Dogg.”

But, why should Snoop care? According to industry analysts, the flavored malt beverage category generated some $967 million last year. And, the Dogg's getting a long, green sip of that brew courtesy of his endorsements. Proving what a terrific role model he is, Snoop's been nice enough to mention Blast on his Facebook page (where he has eight million followers) and on Twitter (where 3.1 million fans follow him). He also mentions Blast in "Boom", a single in his new album, 'Doggumentary'. Daren Metropoulos, who owns Pabst, Colt's parent company, says Snoop's adoration of the toxic beverage is “…just him being a true partner and saying I'm not just an endorser.” That Snoop. What a stand-up guy!

Would Namath, McCartney or Ali have knowingly promoted gateway drugs in their prime? It's hard to say. But, I doubt it.

In the meantime, we're left with role models like Snoop Dogg who make sweet-tasting, brightly colored, highly potent alcoholic beverages seem cool to unsuspecting, underage kids. Snoop is one dog who's leading his pack astray and being paid handsomely to do so. And, here's the saddest part of the tale: we're doing nothing to stop Pabst, Colt .45 or Snoop.

Apr 18

Stealing my heart

The current issue of PR Week carries a totally irrelevant 'gloves off' discussion as to whether  “…clients have become more vigilant in the pitch process since the recession.” More vigilant? Try more vigilant, more demanding and more demeaning as well.

Kidtantrum2Ever since the 2008 economic meltdown, there's been a seismic shift in the ways in which prospects select (or, in many cases don't select, a new firm). I won't elaborate further since Jen Prosek's take on the rather sophomoric debate nails it on the head.

We had a recent experience that exemplifies just how much the agency search process has changed of late (as well as the low regard for a PR firm's time and professionalism that exists within some corporations).

The CMO of a Midwestern technology firm e-mailed us in a panic. Her business was rapidly ramping up its market spend and needed to hire a “top, midsized, BtoB firm” ASAP. She provided the budget range ($15k-$20k per month) and said we were one of only three firms she was contacting.

Since our growth has been robust of late (and, we were reluctant to further strain our resources), we responded cautiously. One of our managers left the prospect a voice mail asking for more details, but never heard back.

Now, fast forward several weeks. My business partner, Ed, received an e-mail from the woman complaining that:
A) I had never responded to her original note, and
B) She had never heard from anyone at Peppercom.

While it's true I didn't acknowledge her original note, one of our executives did, in fact, call. Regardless, she implored Ed to respond and said that we'd already been shortlisted.

And so, I called her. We had an amiable conversation and discussed her needs. That's when she told me she needed a plan within 48 hours. I should have balked. Instead, feeling a little Catholic guilt, I asked one of our managers to drop everything and submit the materials within the deadline.

Then, predictably, our rapid response was followed by prolonged silence. More than a little angry, I shot the woman a note. “Stay tuned,” she replied. “We're making decisions this week.” The note was followed by yet another extended period of radio silence. I e-mailed again, asking for an explanation. This was her response:

“Your timing couldn't be better. We've just made our decision and, sadly, Peppercom isn't one of our two finalists. Thanks and good luck.” Damn. Suckered again.

I felt just like Mick Jagger, who sang in 'Stealing My Heart', “I thought you were dinner, but you were the shark.” In fact, Stealing my heart could serve as an anthem for any agency that's been raked through the coals in today's murky world of new business pitches.

If PR Week wanted to host an authentic gloves off discussion, they would invite two VP's of corporate communications to address a far more relevant question: “Should PR firms be treated shabbily in new business searches?” I could connect them with one woman who answer with a resounding “You betcha!”

This post is dedicated to Peppercommers Sara Jane Whitman Ramos and Courtney Chauvin Ellul.

Apr 15

Hype without substance is as phony as a three dollar bill.

A client in the education software space was recently sharing the results of a global survey that  showed her organization's customers rated it poorly when it came to service. She stared at the marketers around the table and said, “It's our job to improve these numbers.” I disagreed, and said so. I told the client the best marketing in the world wouldn't move the needle if her organization didn't first fix its poor service.
Beef-300x282The same holds true for the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club (AKA 'The Mets' or 'Los Mets' as they're known to my Spanish-speaking readers).
The Mets stink. Period. The club has been in a slow, but steady, death spiral since blowing the biggest late-season lead in baseball history a few years back. Many of the perpetrators of that atrocity are gone. And, the team has a new general manager and field skipper. But, the basic model remains broken. And, ownership can't afford to fix it, because they lost their shirts fiddling around with Bernie Madoff.
Despite the broken service offering, though, the Mets continue to hype each and every one of their upcoming encounters with all the drama of a Hollywood premiere: 'Tune in Sunday as David Wright and Jose Reyes lead the Mets into battle with their arch division rival, Chipper Jones and his Atlanta Braves!' Puh-lese. I'd rather watch grass grow.
No one cares about the 4-9 Mets, as was exemplified by the tens of thousands of empty seats at Citi Field on Thursday (where Los Mets dropped both games of a doubleheader to 'Troy Tulowitzki and his Colorado Rockies!').

Hype without substance is insulting. And, whether it's a client who thinks a thought leadership campaign can improve the findings of a future branding study or the lame superlatives used to convince Mets fans to turn on the tube or turn out to Citi Field, the end result will be the same: failure.

Fix what's broken first and don't try to spend three-dollar bills.

Apr 14

I guess the South will rise again

Gone_with_the_Wind(070311092656)Via_col_Vento_6A just-released CNN/ORC poll marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War showed  an astounding 42 percent of respondents said slavery WAS NOT the main reason southern states seceded from the Union. Holy Abraham Lincoln!

When broken down by political party affiliation, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split (which is why they're independents, I guess) and MOST Republicans said states' rights and not slavery, was the reason for secession. Gimme a break.

The South seceded solely to protect 'the curious institution' as they called slavery. Period. To say otherwise is to rewrite history and reminds me of the nut jobs who claim the holocaust never occurred either.

I'm not surprised the Tea Party-inspired Republicans believe the way they do. It actually fits like a glove. Still, it's a sorry commentary on the current state of affairs and an affront to the hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers who were killed and wounded to preserve the union and end slavery.

I think the survey speaks volumes about the image of the Republican Party and, frankly, am surprised the Rachel Maddows of the world aren't making a bigger deal about the findings. I'm also surprised reactionaries such as the Reverend Al Sharpton aren't leveraging the survey to further fan the flames and advance their personal agendas.

BTW, here are a few other key findings:

– One in four Americans surveyed sympathize more with the Confederacy's cause than the Union's. Nice.
– That statistic increases to an astounding 40 percent among Southerners. Even nicer.
– 80 percent of Republicans admired the leaders of the southern states (all of whom were slaveholders, BTW).

I suggest CNN/ORC survey the same group in November of 2012, when we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder if an overwhelming number of Republicans and Southerners will still insist the Civil War wasn't fought to end slavery? Silly me. Of course they will.

I guess the South will rise again.

Tip o' the hat to Chris 'Repman, Jr.'  Cody for suggesting this post.