Dec 29

And now, it’s on to Quito and let’s win there

IMG_0183I fell in love with alpine, ice and rock climbing about five years ago and, since then have been doing my best to make up for lost time.

On January 2nd, this blogger will once again team up with Chris 'Repman, Jr.' Cody to attack a formidable foe. This time, we'll be heading due south to Quito, Ecuador. Over the course of two weeks, we'll attempt to summit four, 20,000-foot extinct volcanoes (at least, they're supposed to be extinct).

Those who have climbed in the Andes tell me they match the Alps for sheer majesty and rugged climbs. We shall see.

We'll be ready. Me especially. Thanks to my colleague, Deb Brown (who will be posting on RepMan during my absence), I've become enamored of something called kangoo.

In case you haven't heard of this extreme exercise regimen, check out and click on running and boot camp. That's what I've been doing the past three weeks or so, and I can tell you I've never felt fitter in my life. And, it's all due to Mario Green, an amazing trainer and unique human being.

In ending my last blog of 2011, I'd like to paraphrase the final public words of Senator Robert F. Kennedy by saying, “And now, it's on to Quito and let's win there.” I only hope these aren't my final public words.

Repman is all yours, Deb. Handle with care.

Dec 28

REPMAN PODCAST: Hi, my name’s Kim. I’m 25, a Leo and totally, like, fried

Stress-womenA recent article not only suggested that Millennial women were burning out at a faster rate than their male counterparts but, get this, female PR millennials were topping the ‘fried at 25’ list.

In an attempt to get to the heart (if not soul) of this frightening trend, I recently invited six Peppercom interns to air their views (note: we had an even balance of men and women in the discussion).

So, kick back (if your schedule permits you to do so), turn up the volume and listen to hear if Peppercom’s millennial women agree with the basic premise (note: all three were multi-tasking as they answered my questions, so some answers may be garbled. The guys, on the other hand, were yawning, stretching and fighting hard to keep their eyes open).


Dec 27

Don’t make these five start-up mistakes either

Business-man-mistake-whoopsLucy Siegel recently penned an excellent five-point primer aimed at PR firms and warning them of the five most common marketing and communications mistakes made by start-up CEOs and entrepreneurs. Her bottom-line: PR is not a cure-all for a business model.

It's a great list. But, I could easily add five other miscalculations made by start-ups when contracting with their very first PR firm:

1.) “We have skin in the game and think you should as well”. This was a big part of an entrepreneur's budgeting strategy in the original dotcom days and seemed to make a lot of sense since these guys were making hundreds of millions of dollars (at least on paper). So, why shouldn't a PR firm accept half (or more) of its fee in stock options for launching I'll tell you why. Most start-ups fail and guess who's left holding reams of worthless stock options? The PR firm.

2.) “You need to light it up immediately”. Every CEO of every technology start-up with whom I've met over the past 16 years believes his mug belongs on the cover of Inc. Magazine and his company's story should be featured simultaneously on all three morning talk shows. PR legend Howard Rubenstein once told a PRSA audience how he dealt with egomaniacal entrepreneurs: he'd pull a water pistol out of his drawer, hand it to the CEO and say, “Here, go shoot someone. Then, we'll get you on a cover.”

3.) “We're changing the world”. Every start-up CEO believes this even if her Web 2.0 company does little more than provide a hub for educators to share research papers. “'Our model could find the cure for cancer and the world needs to know about it NOW!” Well, your model won't cure cancer and, frankly, the healthcare and business press would laugh at our team if they even suggested such an absurd notion.

4.) “Every press release has to be perfect”. Start-ups approach a basic press release the same way Fyodor Dostoevsky must have planned for his magnum opus, War and Peace. It's not unusual for a start-up CEO to demand 15, 20 or 25 rewrites of a simple release announcing little more than the company's creation. “We need more superlatives, more game-changing adjectives and, most important of all, I want us to be seen as funky.” I can just see The Wall Street Journal's front page story now: “Start-up's decision to be seen as funky is nothing short of revolutionary; Tech firm will also save the planet”.

5.) “We're a B-to-C, no, a B-to-B, no both”. We once represented a technology firm that changed its business model more often than Snooki switches sex partners. One month, they said their target audience was other small businesses. The next month, they said they needed to go directly to the consumer. Then, in month three, running short of funds, they wanted an all-out media blitz on the VC community. I now picture the one-time wunderkind of a CEO standing on some street corner trying to sell fruit: “Oranges are the way to go! No, wait, it berries. Berries are better! Did I say berries? Your body needs the potassium only found in bananas!”

Representing start-up businesses is a dicey proposition for any public relations firm. For every Microsoft/Waggoner Edstrom fairy tale of success, there are tens of thousands of & Jones PR sagas of rack and ruin.

The best approach to dealing with start-ups is the one you should take when preparing to go for a swim in shark-infested waters. Check all the reports, ask all the experts and then, if you must move forward, only dip a toe in the water. The leg (and the agency) you save may be your own.

Dec 22

Is H&K’s re-brand more newsworthy than Al Qaeda’s?

BlogThere's something inherently wrong with an industry trade press that bombards readers with

breaking news bulletins to let us know Hill & Knowlton is now H+K Strategies, but chooses to ignore Al Qaeda's re-branding.

Call me crazy, but I think Al Qaeda's name change in an effort to distance itself from 9/11, bin Laden and other 'collateral brand damage' in order to attract a new generation of terrorists is just a tad more newsworthy than an ersatz cosmetic facelift by a Top 10 PR firm.

I'm not saying the PR trades are making a mountain out of a molehill with the latter and being completely irresponsible in overlooking one of the most fascinating image and reputation stories of the year with the former, but what the heck?

So, here's a quick note from a citizen journalist to our crack PR trade journalists: what defines news in your mind? And, why would you alert the world to a non-story while choosing to ignore a truly significant one? This inquiring mind would like to know.

Dec 20

The Danderoo Award

Throughout 2011 there has been no shortage of creative, eye-catching and hilarious visuals sitting next to RepMan’s prose, thanks to his Chief Illustration Officer, Dandy “the Danderoo” Stevenson. But, which one is the best of the whole year?

Below are the nominations, submitted by RepReaders.  For your chance to win the first annual Danderoo Creative Graphic Award, simply comment and indicate what number is your favorite.

In the spirit of good will to all men (and women) voters names will put into a hat and a random draw will decide the winner, who will receive a vintage peppermill, which was given in 1995 as Peppercom’s first holiday gift. To all THREE of our clients.

Here are the 12 final nominated graphics, and a brief description of the post each accompanied:

1. RepMan professed his love for the Big Apple, which finished 49th in a Reputation Institute survey of world cities. London was top followed by Geneva. Geneva?!



2. November’s Repchatter podcast was all about the benefits of comedy in the workplace, illustrated thusly (and in a way we can all identify.)6a00d8341c39e853ef015436ba0867970c-800wi________________________________________________________________________


3. A couple of weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS the government said that porn was found in his hideout.



4. RepMan received a cover letter from a college grad looking for a break. The grad said he would work for free. RepMan blogged. Our creative director got creative. See?



5. RepMan told us that 37.8 percent of the population of Evansville, Indiana is obese. This honor was illustrated by two ladies waiting for a McDonald’s to open. Note the time on the clock.



6. In April, RepMan regaled us with a story of a stroppy, demanding new business prospect, charmingly represented by this little darling:



7. When RepMan discussed the dawdling response to allegations of pedophilia by the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Danderoo chose this to illustrate:



8.Two separate opinion pieces in two separate industry trades agree on one basic principle:  agencies and marketers alike are overlooking the customer in their rush to do the right thing. RepMan agreed and the Danderoo added this:



9. Inspired by the PRSA’s campaign to redefine the term PR RepMan launched his own Definition of PR Contest, the winner of which would receive the following trophy featuring one devilishly handsome Pepperdude:



10. The graphic below accompanied Rep’s ‘Headline from Hell’ award honoring godawful, unfathomable and buzzword-riddled headlines.


That’s it folks. Vote early and vote often. (And thanks to all of of you for helping make RepMan PR News’ 2011 Blogger of the Year!)


Dec 19

Re-branding pure evil

I guess it's another sign of the bizarre times in which we live, but Al Qaeda just announced it's re-branding itself.

Slide1-1Trying to distance the heinous organization from its terrorism tag, Al Qaeda is now officially calling itself 'Ansar al-Sharia', which means Army of Islamic Law.

An organization official said the re-branding was necessary in order to attract more foreign fighters to the cause. An anonymous diplomat said the Al Qaeda name 'seems to have negative connotations and baggage'.

You think? That's like saying Hitler had some emotional issues.

I wonder if Ansar al-Sharia will also re-brand some of the Al Qaeda key words and tactics? Will:

– Jihad now be 'population redistribution'
– Suicide bombing now be 'a one-way ticket to 76 virgins'
– A roadside bombing now be called 'an infrastructure upgrade'

On a slightly lighter note (as the morning talk show buffoons like to say), Blackwater, the sleazy U.S. security firm to whom W, Cheney and Rummy handed over many Iraqi government tasks previously handled by Sadam Hussein's soldiers (and, then, went rogue, wiping out scores of innocent Iraqi civilians) announce its SECOND re-branding.

Initially, Blackwater had changed its name to Xe Services. Alas, though, their gung-ho, paramilitary culture was firmly entrenched. So, new management was put in place and a second name was announced: Academi. Are they now the 'institute of black ops'?

I'll be interested to see which re-branding proves more successful.

Being the altruistic blogger that I am, I'd like to help. In fact, I've devised taglines that, I believe, will speed the re-branding education process:

Ansar al-Sharia: 'Years of training for a moment of terror'

Academi: 'Kicking ass and taking names in puppet states'

I'd like to end by asking Repman readers to suggest their taglines for these two inherently evil organizations.

Many of you are PR and marketing specialists, so why not give it a shot?

I'll pick the funniest ones and, if you're in town the same day as one of my stand-up comedy performances, will give you two free tickets for a show.

Maybe we can even discuss a re-branding for Repman? FYI, I'd like something that is synonymous with pure fun.

And a tip o' Repman's climbing helmet to Tucker Greco for suggesting this post.

Dec 16

Am I the only one who still loves NY?

Take a guess where New York City finished in The Reputation Institute’s 2011 City Mountain-,,goat-1 RepTrak? Forty-ninth place.

I will repeat that: Manhattan finished 49th! So much for ‘I love NY’. Heck, if you believe The Reputation Institute, just about no one loves New York anymore.

In fact, the Big Apple barely finished in the top half of a group of cities the Institute ranked on overall trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings as well as such other attributes as the local economy, administration and general appeal.

London topped the list (and, since I’m an Anglophile and absolutely adore Londontown, I have no problem with that at all). But London was followed by, get this, Geneva, Switzerland… Geneva Bloody Switzerland!

I just visited Geneva and, if pressed to describe it in one word, I’d opt for ‘boring’ with a capital B, and that rhymes with G, which stands for: ‘Gee, what was The Reputation Institute thinking?’

According to The Reputation Institute (a former Peppercom client, BTW), there’s “…a direct link between cities’ reputation and people’s willingness to visit them or do business in them.” Oh.
Kasper Nielsen (a good guy, BTW) says, ‘”…people are almost three times more likely to visit cities ranked in the top 10 compared with those ranked in the bottom 10 of the reputation ranking.” To which I respond: balderdash!

There’s no way tourists are selecting Geneva, Switzerland, over Manhattan. No way.
Could you imagine a happily married couple evaluating the relative charms of each venue for their upcoming vacation?

Lars: “Look at this, Helga. In New York, we can choose from the new 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Broadway theatre, the U.N., Times Square and, of course, the Circle Line cruise.”
Helga: “Not so fast, Lars. Geneva has that water spout in the middle of Lake Geneva. The children love water spouts.”
Lars: “Ach. It is a dilemma. How will we ever decide?”

Sometimes, people take data too literally. And, while a city such as Geneva may poll dramatically higher than either New York or Hong Kong in certain categories, I simply do not believe that, when push comes to shove, the city by the lake is going to take tourism dollars or convention business away from its far bigger, far cooler competitors.

I hate to say this, but I’m questioning the reputation of the Reputation Institute’s City RepTrak.

What’s next? A Reputation Institute survey that reveals Americans have selected Fargo, SD over Camden, NJ, as the nation’s most livable crime capital? I wouldn’t buy it for a second. Not with the likes of Oakland, Houston and Miami in the wings.
As one of Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’ baseball managers once said of his mathematical stats showing his improvement from one year to the next, ‘Tell your statistics to shut up!” Someone needs to say the same thing to The Reputation Institute.”


Dec 15

The Innovation Mill: Best of 2011

Today's guest post by Peppercommer Lauren Begley* (@LaurenBegley)

PepperMill_BannerLike many PR professionals, I found it a struggle to keep up with every latest and greatest social media platform, marketing best practice or slam-dunk communications campaign. Nearly two years ago, I began working with a group of other Peppercommers to form an agency Innovation Team. Collectively, we spend time each month trolling for best-of examples that we can share with colleagues through our Innovation Mill newsletter.

As we approach the end of 2011, I wanted to share a compilation of some of the more interesting, creative and out-of-the-box examples that we found over the past year. If you like what you see (or not), please post your feedback in the comments section. And let us know if there are any other programs you think should have made the list.

If you’d like to join the Innovation Mill mailing list, please drop us a line at


Mammut Reaches New Heights with 150 Anniversary Campaign

This Innovation Mill tip came to us from Steve “RepMan” Cody’s rock climbing guide. No, really. He informed us of this truly creative campaign from Mammut that celebrated the brand’s 150th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, the outdoor clothing and gear company invited outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world to scale the world’s most beautiful mountains. The Biggest Peak Project in History assembled 150 teams to scale 150 peaks. To enter, brave and digitally savvy mountain climbers created social “peaks” using their online networks. Those who placed highest were selected as team captains and assembled groups to begin the mountainous challenge. Thousands of participants from 80 countries applied to this year-long project that celebrated the passion of the Mammut brand. Talk about climbing to new heights.

Alec Baldwin Wants to Destroy Public Radio . . .

. . . at least that’s what he’s claiming in a fundraising plug for WNYC Radio. We love this promotion for many reasons; mainly because Alec Baldwin is the man. In addition, this commercial uses a celebrity spokesperson that makes sense. Alec is known for his support of the arts in New York, and his personality is well displayed with this self-deprecating sense of humor (which is something we at Peppercom can appreciate).

Discovery Channel Offers Greatest Job in the World: Chief Shark Officer

There is one annual event that brings different generations, social classes and socioeconomic groups together: Shark Week. This milestone on the Discovery Channel involves one week of shark-infested programming that millions sink their teeth into (too much?). To raise exposure of the 24th annual event, the Discovery Channel issued a press release that presented a job description for the position of Chief Shark Officer. Requirements included a willingness to swim with sharks (accompanied by professionals, of course), attendance at the Shark Week premiere parties in NY, LA and Miami (accompanied by celebrities, of course) and an appreciation for the world's most misunderstood predator. The job was filled by none other than Andy Samberg, a favorite cast member of Saturday Night Live, who can now add host of Shark Week to his resume.

Maxwell House Serves Free Drinks and Experiences in “Feel Good” Café

Even if you aren’t a coffee drinker, you can appreciate the Maxwell House Optimism Café, which opened this past summer in Toronto. The café offered patrons numerous perks – including coffee for adults, cookies for kids, biscuits for dogs, and WI-FI for all – at no cost. The supporting marketing campaign was smart. Social media and paid advertising emphasized the “glass (or mug) is half full” mentality. It anchored around inspiring stories of hope and happiness and encouraged consumers to slow down and appreciate the little moments in life, like enjoying your morning coffee. The execution both on- and off-line struck a chord with consumers who were stressed out about everything from work to kids to the still struggling economy.  Maxwell House was able to show its empathy for the consumer by offering a cup of joe with a smile. We’ll drink to that!

Ad Firms Turned Venture Capitalists 

Don Drapper would be surprised. Advertising agencies are steering away from the traditional, Madison Avenues of revenue-generating practices, toward Silicon Valley. According to a Stuart Elliott’s article, “Some agencies are opening units aimed at selling products to consumers. Others are acting like venture capital firms, offering seed money to start-ups in fields like technology. Still other agencies are taking stakes in client companies and sharing in the revenue of merchandise sales.” For example, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners in New York, a unit of MDC Partners, recently started a boutique division called Spies and Assassins, specializing in developing its own intellectual property and marketing it directly to consumers. Its first product, a free mobile application named Twit Hit, has already seen more than 50,000 downloads. It begs the question, is this the future of advertising?

An Ice Crean Advisory Board; Yes, Please!

Ben and Jerry are putting together a group of “enthusiastic, euphoric-driven fans” to create the first official Ben & Jerry's Advisory Board.  Board members will help the brand develop social mission and marketing programs to create even more brand fanatics. Other than the esteemed title and exclusive access to this elite group, members will receive 52 Free Pint Coupons (that will almost last you a full year!), $1,000 cash prize, and a trip to the headquarters in Vermont. To qualify, ice cream connoisseurs can create a personal video that shows that they are the best person for the job. This program taps into its existing fan base for fresh ideas that will resonate with the target audience at large. Plus, free ice cream. Spoon, please!

*Lauren was named one of "PRNews 15 to Watch" 2011. 

Dec 14

Third party endorsement

Lemmings2PR has always been more credible than advertising because, when practiced properly, our end result produces a balanced article from a trusted third party (i.e. a reputable journalist).

Yet, according to a survey from LinkedIn, job seekers continue to use advertising hype instead
of PR strategies in trying to differentiate themselves and find employment.
In fact, the five most overused words in LinkedIn profiles (and the resumes I've read) are:
 - creative
 - extensive experience
 - innovative
 - motivated
 - communications skills
So, what's wrong with using such superb descriptors? Everyone else does. As a result, you won't stand out. Wave bye-bye.
I'm amazed more PR professionals and recent graduates aren't using their PR skills to produce an objective LinkedIn profile or resume replete with third party endorsements instead of first person chest-thumping.
So, let's say you've worked at Peppercom, have grown weary of Ed and are seeking greener pastures. If you've interned for us, your resume shouldn't boast about being a '…effective, problem-solver with a proven track record.' Instead, it should include a quote from our intern manager, Kristin Davie, along the lines of “I've managed many interns, but Ishmael would be at the top of my list.”
Or, let's say you're a Peppercom management supervisor who can simply no longer stomach Ted's political correctness.  Instead of jotting down, “I love people and work incredibly well with teams at all levels,” ask the evangelical one for an endorsement. We appreciate employees who come to us in advance, tell us it's not working out for them and ask for time to find a new gig while we, in turn, are given the heads-up to begin searching for a replacement.

I don't blame PR professionals or students for using an advertising approach to finding jobs in public relations. I point the finger, instead, at executive search consultants, human resource managers and academics for continuing to endorse an obviously broken model (i.e. the one-page resume that starts with objectives, provides a brief summary of work experience and ends with those dreaded words, 'references furnished upon request').
Public relations today is all about engaging in the conversation, and applying the 5Ws to develop your story. I'd use that exact, same approach if I were job-seeking today. I'd craft my profile or resume by answering the following:
 - Who are you approaching? (Find out as much as you can about the individual or the organization in advance)
 - Why you are qualified (told by the most credible source(s) possible, your former employer)
 - What you bring to the plate (see above)
 - Where you've made a significant contribution (see above)
 - When you're ready to begin work (yesterday)
It's ironic that professionals who work in an industry that's always differentiated itself by leveraging the power of third party endorsement almost never use it to market themselves.

Dec 13

Great pick-up lines

William-steig-hello-cutie-pie--ccccnew-yorker-cartoonJust the other day, we were wrapping up a new business presentation when the prospect looked me in the eyes and said, “So, tell me why we should hire your firm.”

Now, in the early days when Peppercom was chasing anything that wasn't nailed down, I might have responded with any one of the following retorts:

– “Well, I believe we've demonstrated the right mix of strategy, creativity, responsiveness and results needed to take you to the next level.”


– “Well, I think we've shown a real passion for your business today and presented a team that has been through the wars together. I know we'd hit the ground running on day one.”


– “Well, I don't think you'll find another firm with the depth of category expertise reflected by the team you're meeting with today. I'll bet that, collectively, we have more than 150 years of experience in helping brands looking to attract toe fungus sufferers.”

But, that was then and this is now.

The older I get, the more I've grasped the amazing similarities between courtship and new business development. And, that goes for both prospective and existing clients (I'll address the latter in a nanosecond).

So, getting back to the most recent prospect's query, I sighed and said, “I'm not sure you SHOULD hire us. Asking us a question like that after we've demonstrated our experience, thinking and passion tells me you're looking for a vendor and not a partner. If I'm wrong, we'd be delighted to continue the conversation.”

That line always stops a prospect in her tracks (by either pissing her off completely or impressing her in ways no other firm has). I've found it's also a great way to pre-qualify a prospect and see if they really ARE looking for a relationship as opposed to just another order-taker.

Getting back to using what I'd call a great pick-up line with clients, I've found over the years that clients HATE being fired. They hate hearing the 'It's not you, it's us' line and immediately promise to behave better, pay their bills faster and lighten up on the over-servicing demands.

In today's economy, it's a dicey proposition to suggest PR firms play hard to get with prospects and clients.

But, trust me, it works just as well in business as it does in dating.

'So, I have to tell you I love your eyes. Do you come here often?'