Feb 29

The authentic CEO is an oxymoron

My friend, and erstwhile colleague, Valerie Di Maria, recently opined on the attributes necessary for a chief executive officer to truly be authentic.

Valerie's list includes the obvious:

– Admitting mistakes
– Emotional intelligence (which I'm pretty sure I've lacked since the age of 16)
– Courage
– A willingness to engage in unscripted give-and-take.


Unfortunately, she missed the most important attribute: telling the truth.

And, that's why I believe EVERY CEO OF EVERY FORTUNE 500 corporation should be trained in stand-up comedy. That's not a typo, and it's not a joke.

We've been training senior executives at major companies for the past few years as part of our Comedy Experience. We partner with a professional comedian, Clayton Fletcher (www.claytonfletcher.com), to lead sessions that have nothing to do with joke-telling and everything to do with showing vulnerability, story-telling and, yes, telling the truth.

Clayton will tell you the very best comedians rely on truth to create their bits. And, that's what we insist upon in our training. After explaining the four different types of comedy, we demonstrate how we use a true, personal event to frame a two to three-minute routine.

The subsequent results are nothing short of amazing. By baring their souls in front of their peers and direct reports, senior executives immediately possess ALL of the subtle value-adds Val talks about in her authentic executive list:

– They become more likable
– They become more approachable
– They not only admit mistakes, they embrace them

And, here's the big one. Drum roll please:

– By allowing everyone else to laugh with them when they stutter or forget a line, authentic CEOs make the tension disappear and the humanity reappear. They also provide the glue necessary for a senior team to become a more tight-knit, all for one and one for all, unit.

I think most CEOs and CCOs will look at Valerie's list, shrug their shoulders and think to themselves, “We already do that.” As a result, they won't change.

I think many will also ignore stand-up comedy as a means to becoming a more authentic executive. Why? Not because the CEO or CCO doesn't think it'll work. On the contrary, it makes perfect sense. Rather, performing stand-up comedy requires one to show vulnerability, and to most CEOs, that's anathema.

Sadly, the authentic CEO remains more of an oxymoron than an aspiration. But, while I have your attention, have you heard the one about the CEO, CFO and CCO who walked into a bar?

Feb 28

And the Losers Are…

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer and Rep-Chatter co-host, Deb Brown.


Yesterday, Repman blogged about the public relations industry and the fact that it needs to do more to attract more men to the field.  This past Sunday night was Oscar night, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself is another industry of sorts that sorely needs diversity.  Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for exposing the composition of The Academy, which determines what movies, directors, and actors, among others, are nominated and ultimately win the coveted statue. In general, I don’t care much at all about what movie wins Best Picture of the Year or which actor wins for his or her role.  But, for those involved in the industry, a nomination, and certainly a win, can propel an actor’s and director’s career and/or greatly impact the bottom line of a film.

The LA Times reported that “Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male… Blacks are about 2% of the Academy, and Latinos are less than 2%. Oscar voters have a median age of 62… People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.”   It’s shocking to learn that such a homogenous group, which doesn’t reflect the broader demographics of the movie-going public, is deciding what movies and actors deserve the highest honors.  In public relations, we always talk about the importance of knowing your audience and being able to emotionally connect with them.  Can you imagine the Twilight films trying to connect with white men over 60?   Now, Twilight doesn’t connect with me either, but I’m not voting.

The Academy has always been put on some type of pedestal by Hollywood, yet no one ever really knew who the proverbial wizards were behind the curtain.  Now that its cover has been lifted, hopefully this will force The Academy to change.  The Academy should look at this as an opportunity to reposition itself and create The Academy 2.0, one that more accurately reflects its own industry as well as the public who supports it to the tune of $13 per film.

The movie “The Artist” won Best Picture.  Considering the make-up of the voters hasn’t changed much since the first Academy meeting in 1927, is it any surprise The Academy chose a (mostly) silent film?


Feb 27

Name one other industry that’s purposely alienating 50 percent of its recruiting base

Visionaries such as Mike Paul and Kim Hunter are to be congratulated for their efforts in making public relations a more diverse field.


But, while we’re making great strides in diversity, we’re going in the reverse direction in addressing an equally perplexing problem: the near total lack of young men entering the public relations profession.

PR Daily News recently published an article
authored by Alexis Morgan, a senior at Penn State University majoring in public relations and broadcast journalism. Ms. Morgan was inspired to write her piece after noticing there was only one guy in her entire PR class (note: having lectured at countless colleges and universities, I can confirm what Alexis observed. It’s rare to see more than one male student in any college PR class).

Curious as to why there were so few men, Ms. Morgan asked two of her professors. Ann Major, a former PR pro turned professor, attributed the seismic decline in male PR students to the rising number of women enrolling in colleges nationally. “Because more women are attending college,” Major told Morgan, “the number— and percentage of PR students increases.” To which I respond, ‘Puh-lese!’

Another PSU professor, Steve Manuel, told Alexis the PR field is less intriguing to men than other fields. “PR is a more conservative field, while advertising is more relaxed.” Yeah, right. And Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon.

Manuel also posited this gem of an insight, “Women are seen as more sensitive, more approachable, and are better listeners than men.” To which I respond, “Complete rubbish!” I can introduce Professor Manuel to any number of women PR executives who are beyond blunt, completely unapproachable and hard-wired not to listen to anything one says. His remarks are nothing less than reverse discrimination bias.

But, I digress. Ms. Morgan’s professors are either in complete denial or completely oblivious to the real causes so few young men enter the PR profession today. They include, but are not limited to:
-    Hollywood’s constant portrayal of PR as little more than an event and party planning support function populated by bubble-headed blonds.
-    The PR industry’s constant celebration of the rise of women to senior ranks on both the agency and corporate side (while focusing less and less on real male role models from Generation X).
-    The dearth of PR industry spokespeople willing to address a politically incorrect subject.

I see the latter cohort as the real culprit. By ignoring the problem, we’re alienating 50 percent of our recruiting base. That’s both amazing and disturbing.

If leadership of The Arthur W. Page Society, the PRSA and The Council of PR Firms were less concerned about ‘earning a seat at the table’ today and more focused on building a balanced profession in the future, we’d see some meaningful education programs being put in place. These efforts would be widespread, aimed at high school boys and would shine the spotlight on the great careers being carved out by the few young men who do populate our ranks today.

Instead, as their forefathers did when race and gender discrimination ran amok in the 1960s and ‘70’s, today’s industry leaders are turning a blind eye on a trend that will one day soon result in an industry that is 90 percent female. And, what’s wrong with that you ask? Easy. If we don’t represent the increasingly diverse population our public and private sector clients are trying to reach, how can we possibly create a strategic communications solution?

You wouldn’t hire an old white man to publicize a fashion accessory for teenaged girls, would you? Well, marketers won’t hire all-female teams to market razor blades to blue-collar men either. In fact, I predict you’ll see more and more clients turn to more diverse professions such as advertising and branding in the future simply because they’re more balance from a race and gender standpoint.

It’s high time our trade groups stepped up to the plate and addressed the elephant in the room. If they don’t, that elephant will be 90 percent pink in a decade or less.

Feb 24

The brand of Catholicism needs last rites


There's been quite a bit of buzz here in Manhattan about the recent elevation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to cardinal (the Roman Catholic Church Cardinal, not the Arizona or St. Louis variety).
Dolan comes across as a hale-and-hearty man of the people who, in his inaugural remarks as Cardinal-in-chief, told New Yorkers that the Red Sox weren't the enemy, the Devil was. I thought that was a nice tie-in to the beginning of baseball's Spring Training.
But, Dolan is wrong. The Roman Catholic Church's enemy isn't the devil. To paraphrase Pogo, 'The Church has met the enemy and they is us' (actually, Church leaders know they're their own worst enemy, but they're in complete denial). And, the brand of Catholicism is suffering as a result of their parochial view.
According to a HuffPo article, “…untold numbers of people have left the Roman Catholic Church. In a 2008 survey, Pew research found that one in 10 Americans now consider themselves an ex-Catholic.”

Personally, I consider myself a Recovering Catholic.
The HuffPo article says the Church has launched an advertising campaign inviting prodigal parishioners (and bloggers, one would assume) to 'come home'.
The advertising won't work for two reasons:
 - Advertising fails miserably when used to gain, or regain, trust. Consumers recognize (and reject) advertising as a ploy by an organization to say what it, and it alone, wants to say about itself. It's the ultimate top down, inside out marketing strategy (as opposed to word of mouth, social media and public relations, which rely on listening first and then engaging in conversations in authentic ways).
 - The Church's twin policies of celibacy and pro-life reflect the world view of old white men. As is the case with many Fortune 500 corporations, critically-needed change is being retarded with the Church because the guy in the corner office is too far removed from the wants and needs of his audience.
A PR Week reporter asked me what one piece of advice I'd provide to the CEOs of energy companies and Wall Street firms (both of whom finished dead last in a new Harris Interactive 'trust' survey). “That's easy,” I responded. “The CEO's need to leave their corner offices, put themselves in their customers' shoes and experience their brands from the outside in.” Only then will they truly grasp the hostility their greedy,
out-of-touch actions have caused.

I'm sure Cardinal Dolan is a humble guy. I even saw him dishing out food to parishioners on Ash Wednesday. But, while he may have been feeding his flock's bodies, I guarantee he wasn't listening to what was on their minds.
People are fleeing the Church because, like many other dysfunctional brands, it's making the classic mistake of not listening to audience wants and needs, and changing its ways to become relevant again.
Unless something changes soon, it may be time for The Vatican to call in one of its own to administer last rites to the brand. I'd suggest it's already on life support, but I'm not sure of the Church's stance on artificially prolonging life.


Feb 23

The wisdom of years. The vitality of youth

I was multitasking the other day, simultaneously working out on the elliptical trainer while watching the latest ‘WWII in Colour’ on The Military Channel (which really needs to be renamed ‘Hitler Comes Alive!’).

In any event, an infomercial popped on the screen that immediately caught my attention. It was advertising a new wonder pill called Ageless Male. The commercial opened with a middle aged sad sack struggling to walk up a single flight of stairs.


As the beleaguered dud huffed and puffed his way towards the fifth stair, several words popped up on the screen: ‘Do you find yourself more tired than usual?’ The scene shifted, and soon I spied the same middle-aged bumpkin in bed, but rolling away from his wife with a dejected look on his face. A second question appeared on the screen, ‘Do you no longer have a healthy sex drive?’

Over the next 30 seconds, the poor bastard failed at everything else in his world. Each time, a question would begin with 'Do you lack:
-    Energy production (I assumed that had nothing to do with oil, gas or natural energy, although it may have obliquely referred to flatulence).
-    Positive mood (our star was shown pouting and frowning over a stack of paperwork. His taxes, perhaps?).
-    Lean muscle (needless to say, the role model made John Goodman seem wiry in comparison).
-    Strong bones (the dude was having problems lifting his pet dog, a toy poodle that couldn’t have weighed more than eight pounds).
-    Concentration (he kept looking at the TV screen instead of his laptop. Maybe, it was just the damn tax form again?).
-    More zest for life (Alas, a gorgeous sunrise was lightening up our leading man’s hood but there he was, just sitting on the front porch, petting that scrawny, little mutt of his).

I felt sorry for the guy. But, then, magically, he became a different person! Suddenly, our obese, couch potato was transformed into Sylvester Stallone. He was smiling, joking, jogging and, most importantly, putting a big grin on his woman’s face. What, I wondered, had caused the remarkable metamorphosis?

Jacob Rosenstein, MD, FACS, quickly provided the answer.

Trained and credentialed in Age Management Medicine (a sheepskin he probably obtained from the same university that trained and credentialed me in Blog Management & Creation), ‘Dr.’ Rosenstein waxed poetic about Ageless Male.

The good doctor said Ageless Male addresses the root (His word. Not mine.) cause of our infomercial leading man’s woes: low testosterone levels.

Ageless Male, whose tagline is ‘The wisdom of years. The vitality of youth’, will increase the average middle-aged male’s testosterone levels by a whopping 61 percent, said Dr. Rosenstein. And, here’s the best part, Ageless Male costs only $39.95 for a month’s worth of pills!

I was hooked. But, alas, I honestly don’t suffer from any of the maladies listed in the infomercial so, while I’m the right demographic and psychographic target, I have no incentive to “…call now and talk to one of the friendly, Ageless Male telephone operators.”

I jest, of course. But, I don’t blame the shysters who are pushing this totally ersatz magic in a bottle solution for middle-age inertia. There’s only one tried and true solution to the above-mentioned maladies that I’m aware of, and it’s called proper nutrition and regular exercise.

I don’t blame Ageless Male for trying to perpetrate a scam. I think this charade is the result of an out-of-touch, sedentary group of bureaucrats otherwise known as the Food & Drug Administration and Federal Communications Commission, respectively. If anything, they’re the guys who need to be popping capsules of Ageless Male every day. If they did, maybe they’d be more alert, have more energy, be more focused and yank this bogus product off the air. Sadly, neither government agency possesses “the wisdom of years or the vitality of youth.”

Feb 22

The real Susan G. Komen crisis

Now that the dust has settled on the Susan G. Koman fracas, I feel the need to clear the air.


You see, I was suffering from a serious case of KomenFatigue. I'm better now, but if you're not familiar with the malady, allow me to educate you.

KomenFatigue is a subset of a more virulent disease suffered by 99 percent of the tens of thousands of professionals who call themselves PR bloggers: it's called LemmingItis. Its symptoms range from generating most of one's original thinking to either support, or oppose, the decisions made, or not made, by the person, place or thing dominating the day's news.

And, so, when the Komen/Planned Parenthood crisis broke, the PR trades were brimming with blogs that supported Komen, suggested Komen's CEO was the anti-Christ for not immediately stepping down, or pursued one of several other courses of action (including my personal favorite: 'What if Komen had stood its ground'?). Talk about Monday morning quarterbacking!

But, I digress. Back to the larger malady known as LemmingItis. Most public relations thought leaders depend on one of five subjects for their daily blogs:

– social media trends
– media training dos and don'ts
– corporate social responsibility trends
– measurement trends
– breaking news

Without one of those platforms, you'd be hard pressed to find original thinking on Bulldog, COMMpro.biz or any other site.

That's why, when I lead internal workshops or counsel clients on blog writing, Tweeting, FBing or podcasting, I almost always suggest they follow the road less traveled. Do you really care what the 3,956th PR executive has to say about Komen or Whitney Houston, or to learn the results of a CEO survey that tells you what you already know? I sure don't. And, that's why I ignore most PR blogs. That's also why most business blogs fail.

The few blogs I do read are those that uncover fresh stories that reaffirm the critical role image and reputation play in a world without trust. Those are the real gems and, in my opinion, those are the bloggers whose opinions will still be sought long after Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, FourSquare and other current channels are replaced by the next bright, shiny object.

So, do yourself, your boss or your client a favor: tell her to avoid writing a blog on the same subject as everyone else. Tell her, instead, to take the road less traveled, uncover a story few have discovered and posit a fresh POV on the image and reputation implications of the tale.

I'd love to continue, but CNN is breaking a new crisis that, I'm sure, will inspire no fewer than 6,363 PR blogs in tomorrow's trade journals. And, we'll once again be besieged by another case of LemmingItis.


Feb 21

Be Careful What You Wish For

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer and RepChatter Co-host, Deb Brown.


We all know that restaurants live or die by their reputation.  Yet, one restaurant, which RepMan wrote about in the past, called the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, is proud of its insane theme and 6,000 calorie Triple Bypass Burger.  Last Wednesday, a man in his 40’s suffered an apparent heart attack while munching on the pound-and-a-half burger and, before the paramedics were called, people thought it was part of the ambiance. After all, when your waitresses and cooks are dressed as nurses and doctors, respectively, you’d think that a guy having a heart attack was probably part of the act, right?  Finally, someone realized at some point that he wasn’t part of the act and was actually dying.  I’m not sure if it was when his eyes rolled back in his head, his lips turned purple, or he just looked too motionless for too long.  Luckily, he’s reportedly recovering in a hospital. 

Now, you would think that might be a loud wake-up call to the owner of this bizarre establishment. Think again.  An anti-meat advocacy group wants to shut down the restaurant.  So does the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. But the owner, Jon Basso, is keeping the killer restaurant open by saying it was built on values our “Founding Fathers intended us to live”…or in this case, die by.

So what does this pound-and-a-half Triple Bypass Burger include besides way too much meat?  How about buns dripped in lard, half an onion cooked in lard, a whole tomato (the only healthy item on the burger), 15 pieces of bacon, cheese and special sauce (which probably contains lard, lard and more lard).  I’m not sure if the man who suffered the heart attack also had the Heart Attack Grill’s side of fries cooked in lard and/or one of the butterfat shakes – as if pure milkshakes weren’t fattening enough.

Apparently, the fact that we have a serious obesity problem in the United States somehow bypassed Las Vegas. 

Feb 17


Also Wails About 'Wimpification' of Canines 

image from www.repmanblog.com

LINCROFT, NJ - February 17, 2012 - Outspoken former U.S. Congressdog Mick Cody today announced he'd be leading a million dog march to undermine Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's chances in the upcoming Michigan primary.

The controversial canine says it's high time canines shine the spotlight on what he called Romney's '…heinous treatment…' of the family dog, Seamus, in 1983.

'We'll begin the march (or trot, walk, run, or canter. Take your pick.) from every corner of this great country of ours,' said the peeved pit bull, who was forced to resign from office last year after being caught texting a topless photograph of himself to a cat.

'Voters need to know that Mitt Romney deliberately strapped his dog, Seamus, to the top of his car during a long drive to Canada. I think it's the Beltway equivalent of Michael Vick's training pit bulls to fight to the death.'

Cody said the one million dogs plan to converge on Detroit in early March. Once there, he promised the dogs will run in packs along the highways, and up and down every street tearing down Romney campaign posters, defecating on them, or both. 'We'll also be lifting our legs outside every Romney campaign office in the state,' he sniffed.

The outspoken pooch says he believes dogs can, and will, cost Romney the Republican candidacy. 'People love dogs, and once more of them know what happened to poor Seamus, they'll shift their votes to a more animal-friendly candidate. Not that Newt, Rick or Ron look very friendly, mind you,' panted Mick, as he returned from a brisk four-mile walk of his own.


Cody also railed at what he called the liberal Hollywood establishment's 'wimpification of dogs.' Standing on his hind legs and activating the remote control of the Cody Family DVD, the dog showed a gathering of reporters a popular Youtube video he called, 'demeaning and degrading to all canines, no matter their breed.' 

'My master is sick and tired of Hollywood's portrayal of all men as stupid. I'm equally upset at their marginalizing all dogs by showing one weakling who happens to be scared silly of cats. The liberal elite are ruining this country,' he howled.

Readers will recall that Mick Cody first rose to prominence when he organized a march of some 100,000 dogs in protest of Michael Vick's abuse of pit bulls. Buoyed by massive national publicity, Cody then became the first dog ever elected to Congress. He later resigned in disgrace because of the sexting scandal, an incident Mick still insists was nothing more than entrapment.

# # # 

Shout out and thanks to Syd Steinhardt who sparked the idea for this post.

Feb 16

You da man!


I had a fascinating conversation the other day with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun and his senior communications strategists. We were discussing the subject of trust, the erosion of trust in virtually every segment of society, and the need for current and future generations to re-adjust their definitions of success as a result.

I volunteered that I’d noticed quite a few Millennial-focused surveys of late in which respondents seem to accept the very real possibility that, due to the economy, limited job options, staggering student loans and global competition, they may never attain their parents’ level of success. But, many seem undaunted and, in fact, point to new, and different, definitions of success, including: 

-      Achieving a work-life balance

-      Feeling fulfilled in one’s occupation

-      Believing one’s contributions are somehow making a difference for the better.

That’s very different from the definition of success when I grew up.

We were told one wasn’t successful unless one at least earned one’s age (i.e. $25,000 per annum if one were 25 years old, etc.). We were also led to believe that success meant getting married, fathering 2.4 kids, as well as owning a dog and a house with the requisite white picket fence (I scored with the wife and two kids, and now am pleased to say I report to two pooches: Mick and Rooney, respectively).

I also came of age in the Me Generation, monster-of-the-universe Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is Good’ Wall Street era. In fact, I distinctly remember a great example of success in the late 20th century. We were dining with my next door neighbor who, at the time, toiled at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. He was boasting about a huge raise and year-end bonus. Then, he glanced down at his PDA and shouted: ‘Look at this! ‘My boss just e-mailed saying, Jimmy, you da man!’ It was nauseating to say the least.

Well, with Wall Street, Main Street and just about every other street either stagnating or in full retreat, the You Da Man moments seem to be dwindling in an inverse ratio to our country’s budget deficit. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some incredibly successful executives rising through the ranks in the near and long-term future; it just means there will be fewer masters and mistresses of the universe.

So, knowing that, how have you personally re-defined success? I’m especially interested in hearing from my Millennial readers (as well as the Generation X and Baby Boomers who have been forced to re-set their expectations as a result of the New Normal). Success is still there for each and every one of us. It just may no longer look like a million dollar paycheck, a trophy wife, two kids, a dog, a house and a picket fence anymore.  

What will it look like to you, and what do you envision prompting a boss or peer to text a message saying, ‘You da man!'


Feb 15


Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer and RepChatter co-host, Deb Brown.

CFOs and a sense of humor? Seems like an oxymoron, right? Our CFO at Peppercom has a great sense of humor, but, in general, I don’t equate CFOs with a sense of humor. So, imagine how surprised – and pleased – I was to find out that 79 percent of 1400 CFOs surveyed said “an employee’s sense of humor is important for fitting into the company’s corporate culture.”

This is GREAT news because if CFOs can understand the importance of a sense of humor in the workplace, then, ideally, the rest of the C-suite should as well.

This is especially important because a company’s culture always starts from the top…whether it’s fun or fearful. For example, at Peppercom, we have a fun, collegial culture that incorporates comedy because the co-founders of Peppercom set that tone. A client we had in the past worked for a CEO who was the definition of hell. She set the tone of fear throughout the organization so that the only choice employees had was to flee. And, so they did, until she was finally given the boot by the board (since they were pretty much the only ones left).

However, when we’ve conducted Comedy Experience sessions, attendees have asked if they could influence and change the culture in a division if they don’t have influence over the entire company. The answer: absolutely. If you’re a manager, you have control over setting the tone of the work environment for your direct reports. And, a positive work environment in one division can start spreading to others. Employees will talk and that could, potentially, influence other managers.

It seems counter-intuitive for bean counters to appreciate a sense of humor. I would like to borrow Stephen Colbert’s “Tip of the Hat” and tip mine to the 79 percent of CFOs for acknowledging the importance of humor. Now, if we can only get the other 21 percent to at least smile.

What do you think your CFO and C-suite think of humor in the workplace? Were you surprised by this survey?