Nov 11

Red roses for a blue lady

Pepe-le-pewI’m not sure why I’m on Mike Carlton’s e-mail distribution list, but I’m glad I am.

Mike’s a Chagrin Falls, Ohio-based, advertising agency consultant who produces a periodic e-mail newsletter and video. (Note to Mike: if I were you, I’d urge the city fathers to change the name of your headquarters town. With a name like Chagrin Falls, I’ll bet the hamlet doesn’t attract too many businesses (or stand-up comedians for that matter).

But, I digress. Mike recently interviewed a number of high-ranking Fortune 500 chief marketing officers to determine their specific pain points and summarized his findings in a white paper and video. I was expecting the usual feedback, including high turnover on the part of the agency’s team, not understanding the business of the client’s business, excessively high bills, etc. Instead, Mike reported the number one issue keeping CMOS up at night is ‘…being taken for granted by their agencies.’  That’s a staggering thought in today’s oh-so-weak economic landscape.

Mike says CMOs, just like significant others, need to be shown you still care about them year after year. They don’t want to feel taken for granted. Can’t say as I blame them.

Now, Mike’s top finding may seem like a no-brainer to you, but I:

a.)    Immediately sent the video to our management team, urging them to view it and asking them to ask themselves if they were, indeed, surrounding our clients of long-standing with ‘love’
b.)    Had a serious déjà vu moment about the time when, truth be told, I was guilty of taking a client of long-standing for granted.

Several years back, the top PR executive at one of our larger clients asked for a dinner meeting. I was only too happy to oblige, being the gregarious, fun-loving, client-friendly guy I am. At the dinner, though, the client told me she wasn’t feeling enough ‘love’ from Peppercom. She said our team was solid, but purely tactical in its thinking. She said she expected more high-level thinking from me in particular. I was fine with that and promised to send her weekly thoughts on strategy, etc. But, then, she floored me by confiding that the CEO of a very large, and very well known, competitor was not only sending her a bouquet of red roses each and every week; he was also enclosing a card with his ‘idea of the week for his very special friend.’

I was simultaneously repulsed and amazed; repulsed by the schlocky, used-car salesman approach of a guy I thought was one of our industry’s thought leaders; amazed that he would be so overt in his attempt to steal away our client.

I told the team about the red roses for a blue lady strategy our competitor was taking and vowed to match him idea for idea. But, sending clients a bouquet of red, white or yellow roses simply isn’t my thing. So, sure enough, in about a month or so, the account was put up for review. We were invited to defend the business. But, in our heart of hearts, we knew we didn’t stand a chance wooing back a woman whose heart had been stolen away by someone else. And, we were right.

It was a painful lesson. And, while I don’t stoop to sending red roses to blue ladies (or men, for that matter), I do reach out periodically to prospects with thoughts and ideas. And, I made sure everyone on my senior management team viewed Mike’s video. We’re even making it a point of discussion at an upcoming meeting. It’s a great reminder that, as Mick Jagger sang in ‘Stealing My Heart,’ love is like a thief. So, too, is business; especially when a blue lady is sitting in the decision-making chair.


Nov 10

Johnnie decides the budget

Queen_victoria_we_are_not_amused_poster-psss228460311490154127trma_400Remember Jimmie, the classic Seinfeld character who always referred to himself in the third person? Well, guess what? Jimmie rides again. Except, this time he's a motivational speaker named Johnnie and his RFP is absolutely, if unintentionally, hilarious.

After a brief overview from Johnnie describing who Johnnie is and why Johnnie deserves his own television show, the reader is positively bombarded with an avalanche of over-the-top testimonials, including:

– "Johnnie changed my life!"
– "Listening to Johnnie was one of the smartest moves in my life!"
– "Johnnie is the best!" The best, Jerry! (O.K. Repman took a little poetic license with that last line)

The funniest part of Johnnie's homage to Johnnie, though, is the budget section. Check this out:

The public relations budget for fiscal year 2012 will be structured at the discretion of Johnnie upon agency selection. The budget, while constrained by the laws of corporate economics, could quickly expand based on the rate of return on investment (ROI) and company growth. Johnnie is looking for guidance in setting an initial budget range based on the core activities required to execute the overall strategy laid out in the proposal. The successful bid will include a multitude of options that will allow Johnnie to select compensation that best fits Johnnie's partnership with the PR firm.

That's just beautiful! I can imagine Johnnie and his team reviewing the proposals as they come in:

– Johnnie thinks this one is weak.
– Johnnie thought Edelman would do a better job on their proposal. Johnnie's disappointed with Richard.
– Johnnie wonders if maybe Johnnie doesn't need a PR firm after all? Maybe Johnnie just pays a call on the television network executives himself? Nobody motivates people better than Johnnie!

A final thought on people who refer to themselves in the third person. I first became aware of this nauseating trait when Reggie Jackson reigned supreme with The New York Yankees (and humbly called himself “the straw that stirred the drink”). After a game, reporters would ask Jackson about his latest home run or confrontation with team manager, Billy Martin. Number 44 would always respond by saying, “Reggie knew he was going deep on that pitcher,” or “Reggie has no respect whatsoever for Billy.”

Repman never had any respect for Reggie Jackson. Likewise for Johnnie. In fact, Johnnie won't be receiving a response from Repman to his RFP. Repman doesn't like people who refer to themselves in the third person. Repman's angry at Johnnie!

Nov 09

Getting serious about comedy

Comedy again.Can stand-up comedy really provide an organization or an individual with a strategic competitive advantage? I think so.

But, don’t take my word for it. Deb ‘Kangoo Kid’ Brown and I recently co-hosted a Repchatter podcast with fellow Peppercommer (and former client) Valerie Di Maria as well as stand-up comedy legend, Clayton Fletcher ( Together we answered such pressing questions as:

  • Would stand-up comedy fit within the cultures of some of the world’s biggest and most serious businesses?
  • Would bottom-line obsessed CEOs ever consider comedy as a new and more authentic way in which to communicate?
  • Will these questions ever end?”

Click below to listen and let us know what you think.


Nov 08

The PR Lessons to be learned from Smokin’ Joe Frazier

Aa1f3_06I was saddened to read of the untimely passing of former heavyweight champion Smokin' Joe Frazier.
While I've always adored Frazier's uber nemesis, Muhammad Ali, I also respected Joe. But, while Joe was superbly matched with Ali in the ring, he was hopelessly outclassed by the Louisville Lip in the media world.

I believe there are several lessons every PR professional can learn from Smokin' Joe's mismanagement of the media:
1.) Create a positioning and three key message points and stick to them in each and every interview.
Ali constantly called himself The Greatest and said he was the “smartest, fastest and prettiest heavyweight champion of all time.” A top Edelman media trainer couldn't do better than that.
Joe, on the other hand, said he “…preferred to let his fists do the talking.”
Round one to Ali.
2.) Have a crisis plan in place. Ali constantly belittled Joe, calling him an Oreo cookie, gorilla and Uncle Tom among other things. Joe grimaced, but never responded in kind. Hence, the media and public tended to believe what The Greatest said.
Round two to Ali.
3.) Line up third party ambassadors. I was never quite sure if Howard Cosell made Muhammad Ali, or vice versa. In the final analysis, it doesn't matter because whenever Ali needed an erudite, verbose and outspoken supporter, Cosell had his back. Frazier, on the other hand, never developed a relationship with a reporter who could have advocated on Joe's behalf.
Round three to Ali.
4.) Make nice with the city fathers. Try touring Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville and not running into a reminder of The Greatest. Now, try doing the same thing in Joe's hometown of Philadelphia. There's no Joe Frazier Boulevard. No Joe Frazier Hall of Fame. Nothing. In fact, in what may be the ultimate insult, the only statue of a boxer in the City of Brotherly Love celebrates the fictitious Rocky Balboa.
Ali was a savvy marketer from the get go. As a result, Louisville is to Ali as Liverpool is to the Beatles. And, poor Joe is just another forgotten Philly boxer.
Round four to Ali.
4.) Take the high road. Most Americans don't know that Ali savaged Frazier outside the ring, calling him every negative name under the sun. As noted previously, Joe wouldn't (or didn't know how to) respond. But, when Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Smokin' Joe had a huge image and reputation opportunity. If he had swallowed his pride and reached out to a very ill Ali to say that all was forgiven and forgotten, Joe quite possibly could have re-shaped his legacy. Instead, he stewed in silence and refused to say or do anything.
Fifth and final round to the winner and STILL heavyweight PR champion of all time: Muhammad Ali!
Post script: I actually met Joe Frazier about 15 years ago. His band, Smokin' Joe and the Kittens were playing some dump off the strip in Atlantic City. I spotted him before the show and went right up to introduce myself. He couldn't have been nicer and answered every one of my questions, including those about:
1.) Ali: 'He was maybe the fifth or sixth hardest puncher I ever fought. Chuvalo. Foreman. Bonavena. Those guys were the real punchers."

2.) March 8, 1971: (the night he beat Ali to become heavyweight champion):  “They've taken everything else away, but no one can take that away from me.”
3.) His fabled left hook: “I had a good hook, but this was much bigger and tougher than my hook,” said Joe, pointing to his heart.
If only Joe had shared pearls like that in his prime, things might have turned out differently. Instead, I remember Smokin' Joe Frazier as a great heavyweight in the ring and a true P.R. flyweight outside it.

Nov 07

What did JoPa know and when did he know it?

No one's smiling in Penn State University's Happy Valley today. Long-time assistant coach Jerry Joe-PaternoSandusky has been accused of 40 counts of inappropriate contact with eight young boys, ranging from touching to statutory rape.

If he's found guilty, the Nittany Lions coach may spend the rest of his life in jail. And, two other PSU officials have resigned in the shocking scandal's aftermath.

The really big questions, though, are swirling around legendary PSU coach Joe Paterno (or, JoPa, as he's affectionately known). The winningest football coach in Division One history says he was told about the allegations in 2002 and passed them up the food chain, but that's it. Pretty weak, no?

I think JoPa's in denial. I think the head coach knew about Sandusky's hijinks all along. And, worse, I think he helped cover it up in a Nixonian bid to maintain his power base (clearly, the guy has no interest in ever retiring).

Paterno certainly had the power and motivation to cover-up the scandal if he chose to do so. After all, Sandusky was his top lieutenant for decades.

Regardless of what he did or didn't know, JoPa's legacy will be forever tainted by the Happy Valley scandal.

And, depending upon how aggressive top school officials are in admitting fault and implementing change, the university itself may be likened to a collegiate version of The Vatican. Maybe the school will even take a page out of the Church's play book and blame others for its own sins (i.e. “Sadly, Assistant Coach Sandusky is yet another victim of the sexual liberation that pervaded the 1960s.”).

For the sake of the school's image, if not his own, Coach Paterno needs to come clean and answer two basic, Watergate-inspired questions:

– What did JoPa know?
– And, when did he know it?

His answers will determine whether the sex scandal is an unfortunate footnote to JoPa's legendary career or college coaching's version of Watergate. If the latter proves to be the case, I wonder if David Frost might be interested in a sequel? Nah. 'Frost: Paterno' doesn't have the same panache.

Nov 04

This can’t be good news for the Barcalounger

Img_2112-500x497Doctors and fitness experts have long espoused the benefits of an active lifestyle. But, as the statistics bear out, Americans have not only turned a deaf ear to the warnings, the number of obese, sedentary slugs has only grown.

Now comes a new study that shows more than 90,000 new cancer cases a year may be due to physical inactivity and prolonged periods of sitting. The American Institute for Cancer Research cites some 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 of colon cancer. That's enough people to fill the Rose Bowl!

The anti-sedentary news can't be good news for marketers who enable such inactivity. How should Barcalounger, for example, respond? Do they take the route of Big Tobacco and deny, deny, deny?

     – “The AICR study adds nothing new to the dialogue. We remain committed to providing the softest, most comfortable lounging experience possible for inert Americans.”

Or, do they go on the offensive and launch an attack ad against fitness and wellness?

     – “Who needs activity? Even triathletes die sooner or later. Kick back and ease your way through a shortened lifespan with our new, extra padded Barcalounger Deluxe (which comes equipped with fold-away trays, a built-in fridge AND airtight storage areas for those double cheeseburgers and fries you want to keep super fresh for the second half kick-off!).”

I've often wondered how I'd handle an offer to represent a product that either causes illness (i.e. tobacco) or enables obesity and inactivity (i.e. lounge chairs). The latter is obviously a no-brainer since it can be positioned as a lifestyle accessory for the active or inactive consumer.

But, representing Big Tobacco or the National Rifle Association would present a huge ethical problem for this blogger. I simply don't buy into the logic of PR firms who say they represent these merchants of death because “…every business deserves a right to tell its side of the story.” And, I also don't buy into the NRA's rant about Second Amendment rights and their mantra that 'Guns don't kill people. People kill people.' Yeah, sure. And, a Big Mac with cheese doesn't harden the arteries either. That's caused by an individual's DNA. Not.

In any event, I'll be interested in reading how, if at all, the enablers respond to the new statistics about the dangers of a sedentary life and sitting for a prolonged period of time. As for me, I've never been able to sit still, so the whole thing is a non-issue. As a matter of fact, I think I'll head to the gym right now.

Nov 03

Win your free Peppercom baseball cap today!

I’ve seen some godawful, unfathomable and buzzword-riddled headlines in my day, but I felt compelled to present November’s ‘Headline from hell’ award to Ms. Debbie Hayes of Ronald Trahan Associates. Congratulations, Ms. Hayes! Your headline "Arterial Remodeling Technologies (“ART”) reports that its second-generation bioresorbable stent promotes vessel lumen enlargement in post-angioplasty in vivo model" is among the most obtuse and arcane couplings of unrecognizable words and phrases I’ve seen in many a moon.

Calvin-essay-writingPlease understand that I’ve tried my very best to make some sense out of it. And, I know that it relates, in some incomprehensible way, to heart surgery. But that’s as far as I can get. In fact, I’ve given up. Case closed. Nurse: please apply the paddles to this lifeless hulk of a headline and let’s see what happens.

That said, I’ll mail a free, top-of-the-line, seldom-worn Peppercom baseball cap to the first reader who can tell me what the heck this headline means (aside from Ms. Hayes herself. Sorry, Debbie, only one prize per customer).

I’d also invite readers to send me some classic headlines from hell you’ve come across in your daily readings. I’d love to run these gems on a monthly basis.

One final thought: while I understand Ms. Hayes probably wrote this release with, perhaps, a neurosurgeon in mind, why am I on the distribution list? I panic at the first sight of blood. But, maybe Debbie already knew that. Maybe she thinks I’d benefit from one of ART’s second-generation bioresorbable stents that promote vessel lumen enlargement in post-angioplasty in vivo models? I’ll bet the super stent, chased down by a cool glass of sauvignon blanc, would be just the ticket for an interesting evening.

Nov 02

Delta – No Longer Ready for Anything

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Beth Starkin

Thumbnail.aspxWe all remember the days when Delta was "ready when you are."  While the airline has its flaws, (they all do,) they were the airline who won me over with the care and concern of their employees- and I would go to bat for them because of that.  Recently, though, I’ve noticed that care has gone from genuine to forced.

For example, take my flight Friday.  I woke up at 3am excited for my 6:20 am Delta flight from San Francisco to Charleston (with connection in Atlanta).  I was off to visit my boyfriend– he’s in the Navy and we don’t see each other very often so when we do, every second is precious. You can imagine my dismay when at 3:30 I received an automated call from Delta.  A calming computerized voice told me my flight had been rescheduled to 8:30.  Not delayed… rescheduled.  But they had “protected me” and rebooked my connection on a later flight.  No option to speak with a representative. No explanation for the delay. But, also, no worries, because I was comforted that they had “protected me.”

Only they hadn’t.

Hopeful fool that I am, I went to the airport in time a 6:20 departure (I was up already anyway).  The gate agent, while nice enough, wasn’t terribly helpful.  See, while they did rebook me on a later connection, there weren’t any specific seats to be booked on that flight, so they could't guarantee I would get on.  Details.  But no worry, she put in a seat request for me – window. But only if there are seats of course.  She also could provide no information on why the flight was rescheduled despite good weather on both coasts. (I later learned, that my plane had a flat tire, and the new  tire had to be trucked up from LA – confounding, but another issue for another day.

While I was miffed about the delay, I did understand that things happen, and delays are part of travel.  What makes me crazy is this false care.  Sugar coating a bad situation doesn’t make it go away, or even make it better.  Companies are much better to just tell it like it is – we’re sorry for the inconvenience, and we’ll do what we can to help you.  Don’t say you’ve “protected me” when you didn’t.  It comes across as disingenuous and deepens my distrust of your company.
For a company that claims to be 'Building a Better Airline, Not Just a Bigger One,' Delta seems to be falling short.  Automated calls with no options to speak to a representative and gate agents who don’t actually know what’s going on speaks volumes about a company that’s grown too fast to continue to provide quality customer service.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate if they reversed their tagline to read 'Building a Bigger Airline, Not a Better One.'

Nov 01

Guiding the guides

I look up to mountain guides. Literally. I've climbed rock, ice and alpine routes all over the world, following the leads of such terrific guides as Art Mooney, Miles & Liz Smart, Mark Chauvin and the incomparable Vern Tejas.

P1030...093So, when Betsy Winter, executive director of the American Mountain Guides Association recently asked me to discuss branding, marketing and crisis communications with the board, I was only too happy to oblige.

While the AMGA prides itself in providing exceptional climbing experiences as the "premier source for training, credentials, resource stewardship and services for U.S. guides and instructors," they face a few image and reputation challenges:

1) The media rarely call for comment, except in the aftermath of a climbing fatality.

2) Individual members rarely plug their AMGA certification or the need for more certified AMGA guides in order to ensure safe climbing.

So, I walked the board (all dressed as if they were ready to lead a nine pitch climb up one of the Gunks' legendary walls, BTW) through a branding and crisis primer this past Sunday afternoon.

I explained that media objectivity has become something of an oxymoron thanks to downsizing, the rise of younger, lower paid, less objective journalists and the voracious appetite of the 24×7, 'if it bleeds, it leads' media beast.

I told them it was their responsibility to shape positive stories and position themselves as thought leaders who could be ongoing sources for such stories as outdoor vacations, fitness, and preserving our remaining wilderness and parks, etc. I told these aggressive, mountain men and women it was time to focus some of that same can-do spirit into generating positive press for the AMGA.

I also walked them through the basics of crisis communications, the importance of admitting fault (if true) and viewing every crisis, no matter how bad, as an opportunity to reinforce the AMGA safety principles (since most accidents occur when climbers attempt foolish routes without a certified AMGA guide to lead them).

West Coast guide Mark Chauvin may have asked the best question of the session when he sighed and said, 'Steve, how do I get the media to stop calling me ONLY after accidents occur and start calling me to talk about the many great aspects of climbing?"

I responded by demonstrating the ways in which to build a story, the critical importance of data and trends, and discussing the media's infatuation with human interest stories. I suggested he lead climbs of interested groups who, perhaps, might be comprised of cancer survivors, the sight challenged or even wounded warriors who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Provide a lazy, local reporter with a neatly tied feature package like that and you'll receive a positive article in return, I promised.

Finally, I answered the board's fundamental question about why so many member guides aren't participating in the AMGA's publicity efforts. I responded by saying: “You've got to answer their ‘What's in it for me?’ question.” When a call comes into AMGA headquarters from a national reporter, I said, suggest he or she also interview one or more of your certified guides. Then merchandise those results back to ALL members. Once they see their peers being quoted in an AMGA feature, member guides will be only too happy to mention the AMGA the next time a local reporter calls them.

And, what did I charge for this advice? Some branded merchandise, of course. And, Betsy Winter obliged by handing over a sweet AMGA-branded climbing jacket. That's when I made my offer to the entire board: “Call me anytime you have a question or find yourself knee deep in a media crisis. I'll be only too happy to help as long as there's some SWAG headed my way.”  Hey, everyone has a price. Even Repman.