I was rummaging through some old files the other day when I stumbled across Inside PR's 1996 Agency Report Card issue. Holy throwback, Batman! In it, I found the 'newcomers' section and an oh-so-sweet review of the embryonic Peppercom. (Click on the image to the left to read.)
In the text, Editor Paul Holmes described Ed and me as “industry veterans”. Good lord. If we were veterans then, what are we now? Industry elders? Paul was gracious in his comments, and mentioned that Peppercom “…had quickly established itself as a $1 million competitor in the toughest market in the world, thanks for the most part to the quality of its senior personnel— three of whom followed Cody and Moed from (the now defunct) Brouillard Communications.”
That's spot-on. We did, indeed, pirate away three co-workers from our erstwhile employer. To get two of them to join us, though, we had to first offer equity in our nascent firm. And, I still cringe when I think of what Brouillard's CFO, Irene Hanson, said to one of them, “But, Peter, don't you realize that three percent of nothing is nothing?” I wonder what Irene would estimate a three percent stake in Peppercom's projected 2011 billings of $15 million to be worth today?
I'm pleased to report that two of the three original employees, Peter and Karen, have gone on to enjoy very successful careers in public relations. Apparently joining Peppercom didn't prove too detrimental to their subsequent success.
Pasted alongside the Inside PR text is Peppercom's inaugural print ad (created by a certain blogger). What struck me about it, though, wasn't the headline or text but, rather, the contact information. Listed at the bottom is a notation that reads: “E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.”Man, oh man, did that ever bring back a flood of first-year memories.
Ed and I had rented two offices and a desk from a small design firm. I distinctly remember anxiously awaiting our receptionist's arrival each morning so she could turn on our one computer and I could hear that AOL guy's voice proudly proclaim, “You've got mail!” Typically, the ENTIRE firm received a grand total of three e-mails overnight.
We asked the very same design firm to create a sign with double-sided tape that we could place on the front door whenever a client or prospect would visit. After a month or two, the badly-battered, fingerprint-besmirched board would fall off its moorings whenever the door slammed shut. I'm sure that impressed prospects.
I also recall scrambling to convert Ed's office into our agency's conference room before a presentation or meeting. One small client later sent us a termination letter that contained a P.S. "By the way, we know Ed's office is the conference room." Priceless.
In addition to the five original employees, Peppercom '96 also featured a crazy cast of support players, including a freelance publicist named Efrem Luigi Epstein. F fashioned himself something of a trivia wunderkind and routinely dazzled us with his knowledge of the useless and the arcane (to wit: one would provide F with his birthdate, say June 1, 1961, and F would immediately proclaim, “Let me see. Yup. That was a Tuesday!”).
Hoping to generate buzz for our newborn firm, we added a section to the web site to showcase our whiz kid's trivia talent and entitled it, 'Stump the F.' Our challenge? Ask the F any trivia question whatsoever. If he didn't respond with the correct answer within 24 hours, we'd provide a free Peppercom T-shirt. Needless to say, everyone and his brother ended up stumping the F and we very nearly lost our shirt giving away free T-shirts.
There's no question that very first year in business was simply the best in my life. I've never experienced, before or since, such a heady mix of newness, excitement and just plain, old fun. I'm sure there were heartaches along the way, but seeing the old Inside PR review and Peppercom ad put a very big smile on this industry elder's face.