Mar 16

Talk about not walking the walk


Clients insist upon it. Agencies obsess about it. But, according to a new survey of 243 chief marketing officers, a whopping 57 percent DON'T establish their budgets according to ROI measures. Instead, more than two-thirds said they base their budget decisions on historical spending patterns and 28 percent go on their GUT instincts (insert link).

Undertaken by the Columbia Business Center on Global Brand Leadership and the New York American Marketing Association, the survey sure puts the kibosh on all the chatter about measurement. In fact, one CMO said measuring ROI is like “…pissing in the wind.”  Nice.
I'm not surprised by the results.

Clients always insist on a measurement component for their programs, but seldom allocate separate budgets for it. So, the agency has no other choice than to re-allocate time from counseling and implementation to create some sort of Band-Aid that will satisfy the client's basic measurement needs. And, therein lies the fundamental displeasure with current measurement tools.

Most PR measurement programs still focus on warm and fuzzy things such as awareness, share of voice and my personal bete noir, advertising equivalency (a heinous and bogus ROI if there's ever been one). 

A few years ago, we launched Business Outcomes, a model that we've perfected to the point where today it is completely tailored to exactly what a client wants to measure.  No two clients' Business Outcomes programs are alike.  This measurement tool sets itself apart from others in the industry because it shows holistically how a campaign ties back to objectives, can drill down to a specific data point to uncover any potential issues with a campaign while in progress, and can provide clients with multiple correlations among data points.  And, clients are investing in Business Outcomes. And, no those dollars are not being reallocated from the primary marketing budget.

The Columbia/AMA survey results should be a wake-up call to the industry award program organizers who crow about the business results achieved by their 'campaigns of the year.' Since so many of the client-side decision-makers say they don't believe in measurement or use it as a predictive tool to inform strategic planning, how REAL and how MEANINGFUL are the results being touted in those winning submissions?

I'd love to see just one, rationale response from a PR industry awards organizer to this obvious conundrum. I'd also love to see a comment posted by one or more of the measurement thought leaders. How does it make you feel to know the majority of your clients think your service is akin to pissing in the wind? Talk about a kick in the head.

Mar 15

Glengarry Glen Sachs


The very best public relations counsel in the world can't fix a broken product or service. That's why, in light of yesterday's brutal Greg Smith essay in The New York Times, Goldman Sachs would be better advised to spend its money on smarter initiatives.

Instead of following a typical PR firm's advice of running full-page letters of explanation in The Wall Street Journal signed by CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein, placing bylined articles carrying president's Gary Cohn's signature in the business and financial press and getting both on the CNBC, Fox Business Report circuit, Goldman should first shore up what I call its audience experience.

The top brass should spend time walking in the shoes of the institutional investors Smith says were known as “muppets” within the firm. They need to sit alongside employees at all levels and experience the culture Smith termed “toxic and destructive.”

In short, the old, white guys in the corner office need to abandon the typical strategy of simultaneously undermining Smith's credibility while blitzing the media with 'look at how great we really are' stories. The first approach will reek of vindictiveness. The second will have about as much credibility as BP's continuing to insist the Gulf Shore is better than ever.

Toxic cultures and patronizing customer service occurs when senior leadership puts profits before people. But, there are two, sure fire ways to turn both around (and neither involves PR): The board should either  a.) fire Blankfein and Cohn, or b.) read both the riot act and insists they spend the next six months experiencing their brand personally and from the outside in.

I'd opt for the latter and get Butch & Sundance going on a different kind of tour. I'd have them sit right alongside their key institutional investors and listen as a Goldman adviser tries to push 'Hung Elephants' as Smith called the firm's practice of selling only the highest profit products. I'd have B&S join another investor and experience, first-hand, what it feels like to be pushed to invest in 'axes', the products Goldman is trying to dump because they aren't very profitable.

Last, but not least, I'd partner with a firm that could attend internal meetings as B&S's proxies to see if muppet mania really does pervade the culture and clients are, in fact, seen solely as cash cows and not valuable partners.

Until, and unless, Blankfein and Cohn experience the Goldman brand from the outside in, any PR program will be seen as glib and superficial. But, if they can report in six or 12 months time that they personally walked in their customer's shoes, sat in employees' seats and made concrete corrections based on first-hand knowledge, they can begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding trust in the brand. If they don't, Goldman will be forever tarnished as the Glengarry Glen Ross of Wall Street.

Mar 14

Who the hell is Moss?



My colleague Deb Brown is launching her own blog today. It's called Stand-up Executive, can be found at and, like Repman, will be dramatically different from the plethora of PR blogs that either opine on the news of the day, tell you what you already know or hype the agency's latest survey.

Deb's blog will explore the amazing ways in which some forward-looking executives are using comedy and humor to differentiate themselves, display their own vulnerability and, critically, enhance morale and productivity within their organization. Like me, though, Deb will be just as quick to share examples of the old school, top down, slash-and-burn a**holes who still sit in the corner office of many Fortune 1000 organizations.

In tomorrow's Stand-up executive blog, for example, Deb will examine the surprisingly large numbers of psychopaths who also happen to run major organizations. (A recent survey revealed there are more diagnosed psychopaths in the C-suite than there are in psychiatric wards. Why am I not surprised?).

I worked for the mother of all psychopaths. Or, should I say the father? The CEO, who I'll call Al in the interests of confidentiality, was a massive, former NFL lineman who physically, mentally and psychologically intimidated people, and got his jollies by doing so.

While you could set your watch by the number of outbursts Al would have on any given day, my favorites included:

– The firm's annual international partners meeting circa 1988. I was responsible for the event logistics and various speeches. The CEO stayed up late the night before inspecting my handiwork and not going to bed until he was convinced everything was perfect. So, imagine my surprise the next morning when, one by one, he began berating the poor performances of each region's partners. He ranted at the Brits and hurled croissants at the French. (I kid you not. He'd specifically asked me to have croissants set at his head table). But, this psychopath saved his best performance for the final delegation: the Mexican partners. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he shouted, "And you f*cking Mexicans. You a**holes haven't won a damn thing since The Alamo!'
– The next example occurred when he pulled me into his office and had me dial the head of our London PR firm. My CEO wanted to know why we weren't generating more publicity. I connected to Nigel and asked him to hold. (Al was signing papers his secretary had just brought in). Not knowing Nigel was listening to every word, Al screamed over to me, “I hate the f*cking Brits. They always expect us to save their asses and this a**hole is no different.” I frantically waved my arms at Al to let him know the phone line was live. The CEO suddenly realized Nigel had heard every word. “You there, Nigel?” asked Al. “Yes, Al. I heard you,” stammered Nigel. Al laughed out loud and said, “Good, now get us some f*ucking clips or you're gone!”
– Another incident concerned this blogger. I had been kicking ass, but hadn't received a raise in two years. So, I confidently strolled into Al's office and asked for one. His subsequent explosion could be heard as far away as St. Louis. At the end of a good, 15-minute long tirade, Al told me I wasn't worth half my salary and should be ashamed every morning I looked in the mirror. Needless to say, there was no pay raise.

This particular psychopathic CEO was never purposely funny, but his lack of formal schooling led to a few hilarious, if unintended, gaffes. Once, when reviewing a newly-published sales brochure, Al asked me the distribution strategy. “We'll be sending it en masse to all audiences simultaneously, Al,” I responded with a smile. He nodded cautiously. “So, who gets it when?' He queried. I repeated my answer. That's when he blew his top, slammed down his hand and screamed, “Who the hell is this guy, Moss, and why does he get special treatment?”

Psychopaths are a breed apart.

For more insights on the intentionally and unintentionally funny CEOs in our midst (and the critical role comedy can play in communicating truth, changing organizational culture and enhancing authenticity, check out Deb's blog). FYI, it'll be distributed en masse.


Mar 13

What, me worry?


In our 17-year history I've often worried that, after announcing a new service offering, some larger agency will co-opt the idea, pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into creating their own version and, in effect, hijack it.

That's not the case with Peppercom's Comedy Experience featuring comedian Clayton Fletcher, which debuts today.

For one thing, we've been perfecting the Comedy Experience for five years. For another, it's completely embedded in our culture. But, perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of our competitors simply take themselves far too seriously to embrace a solution that insists senior executives display vulnerability and embrace self-deprecating humor.

Comedy Experience blends the strategies and tactics of stand-up comedy with the very serious cultural and communications needs of modern organizations. It's already been implemented in a wide array of trade organizations, major corporations, universities and professional services firms. It's proven especially effective in post-merger situations in which leadership is desperately trying to break down barriers between two distinct cultures in order to form one.

Our Comedy Experience is a game changer that has nothing to do with joke-telling and everything to do with helping executives in every industry become better storytellers, understand ways in which to connect with audiences and close the sale (whether that sale is asking a direct report for a major budget or a prospect for a year-long contract).

Comedy and communications go together like soup and sandwich, baseball and apple pie and, in rare instances, love and marriage. Why? Because the best stand-up comedians rely on the truth to create their material and the best campaigns are those based on transparency and authenticity.

I'm proud of every new offering we've brought to market. But, Peppercom's Comedy Experience featuring Clayton Fletcher is special. It's one thing to launch a new measurement tool, an annual trust barometer or a division whose sole purpose is to report on emerging trends. It's quite another to see a service offering literally turn around an organization's long-standing cultural barriers in a few weeks' time. That's not only rewarding. It's a way cool experience (hence the use of the word in our offering).

In the final analysis, our industry prides itself on making a difference. Some do it by mitigating a crisis, others do it by creatively launching a new product. We do both (and lots more as well). But, we're the ONLY ones who've unlocked the natural synergy between comedy and business, and helped good cultures become great ones. That makes this blogger do more than merely smile. It makes me laugh out loud.

Mar 12

It’s morning in America. Again


PR Week's March issue features an agency summit in which “CEOs from nine leading firms met to discuss how PR can continue boosting its stock at the highest business levels.” Typically, the Summit Nine featured the CEOs of six holding company firms (or those owned or formerly owned by holding companies), three independents and no, repeat NO, owners of small or boutique firms. So much for a representative sampling.

The summit touched on many, time-worn subjects:

– PR earning a seat at the C-suite table. Attendees patted one another on the back for having done so. This, despite major stories last week about Unilever and P&G gutting their agency relationships and in one case, calling them 'unnecessary expenses'.
– PR being best positioned to take the lead in the social media war. (There was no discussion whatsoever about all the advertising and digital shops bolting on PR functions and telling clients THEY should take the lead since they can now do it all).
– Measurement. There was nothing new here at all, since no one has yet to invent a silver bullet.
PR's image as spin doctors (a decent discourse, but no comment whatsoever on Hollywood's influence in depicting publicists as bubble-headed, party-planners, or what industry leaders should do about it).

The only semblance of controversy came when Margery Krauss of APCO (formerly owned by a holding company) and Aedhmar Hynes of Text 100 rightly called out the holding companies for fighting with their sibling agencies over who gets what share of a client's budget. Harris Diamond, who holds some uber title at Weber's parent, said independent firms do the same. Maybe Edelman does, but the vast majority don’t (and, clients need to know that internecine warfare not only runs amok within holding companies, but does so to their detriment).

Instead of addressing tough and uncomfortable questions, the summit ended with a feeling of euphoria, leading the reader to believe it was great to be alive, practicing PR and living in America. Indeed, the tone reminded me of Ronald Reagan's seminal 'It's Morning in America' theme that swept him to reelection in 1984, conveniently overlooking the growing disproportion of haves and have nots that Reganomics was beginning to spawn and which would lead to the 2008 market meltdown.

If I had been facilitating the agency summit discussion, I'd have asked very different questions:

– What are we doing about the fact our entire industry will soon be 90 percent female (and overwhelmingly white)?
– What are the agency leaders doing to address serial clients, who change PR firms as often as Don Draper switches shirts after an all-night bender?
– Why is our entire industry overlooking the importance of customer experience and not realizing that it's no longer what a brand says, but what a shopper experiences, that matters?
– How can the badly broken industry awards program be level set so that more small, boutique firms can submit as many entries as the top 10, deep-pocketed ones do?
– If clients can bypass the media and reach audiences with their own content, who needs a PR firm?
– How do we deal with the rampant age discrimination that has left tens of thousands of 50-something PR executives hopelessly unemployed? Ad Age published a fascinating cover story on the subject a month or so back.
– The bait-and-switch new business tactics that disenchanted prospective clients tell me are still pervasive among the holding companies?
– How the holding companies can continually report upbeat quarterly earnings statements while at the same time quietly reporting yet another downsizing?

The Fourth Estate rose to prominence in our fledgling democracy because the founding fathers saw a need for a free and unfettered press to hold the government accountable. The same holds true for every industry of note. So, why don't we ever see the tough issues being addressed by The Holmes Report, Bulldog or PR Week?

If a visitor from outer space, intent on learning more about America's PR machine, were to rely solely on the trade press for source material, 'It' would not only believe it's morning in America again, it would also be convinced the sun never sets on the American PR agency empire.

Mar 09

We may use P’com, but you never will

Positioning and brand expert Al Ries has written a superb Ad Age column that beautifully captures the kind of top down, inside-out thinking that still pervades most of Corporate America's C-suite.


In the column, Ries mocks J.C. Penney's rebranding of itself as JCP. Having been involved in countless name changes over the decades, Ries knows what he's talking about. He says Penney CEO Ron Johnson and his team chose JCP because that's how THEY refer to the company in their internal e-mails and casual office conversations. But, as Ries points out, the rest of the world still calls the organization J.C. Penney, Penney's or Penny. And, he cites studies showing that the JCP abbreviation is being completely ignored.

Ries says consumers should be the ones who decide if a corporation should change its name. He cites Coke as a prime example. Coca-Cola didn't begin putting the abbreviation on soda cans until the four-letter C-word had entered the popular lexicon.

That's smart, outside-in thinking. Federal Express did the same thing, waiting until everyone in the world was using the FedEx abbreviation before formalizing the change.

Emily Yellin, our strategic partner in Peppercom's Audience Experience offering, made the same point in her book, 'Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us.' She constantly reminds marketers that consumers don't think of themselves as consumers. They're shoppers. And, shoppers don't think of J.C. Penney as a brand. They think of it as a discount store.

The best thinkers in marketing are the ones who've figured out the audience is now in charge. The days of re-branding your company as JCP and expecting the mindless, advertising-dependent masses of the past to automatically start using the ersatz initials are gone with the wind.

The game has changed and, before making a name change, listen to your audience first. If you listen hard enough, they may tell you to stick with what you've got.

I can promise you one thing. Just because we refer to our firm as P'com doesn't mean I'd ever re-brand us that way or expect you to suddenly calling us P'commers.

Oh, one more plug for Ries. Just to pour salt in the JCP wound, he says he would have advised Penney to stay with their name and use the tagline: 'Save dollars at Penney's.' Brilliant in its simplicity, isn't it?


Mar 08

Silence is anything but golden


I recently stumbled across an interesting article on, a website aimed at sales professionals.

Written by Colleen Francis, and entitled, 'What to do when your prospect or client goes silent,' the piece lists a number of reasons why a prospective client may be ignoring your follow-up calls as well as strategies for dealing with the silence.

While there's nothing particularly revolutionary about her advice, I did like the author's three call, follow-up strategy for dealing with an unresponsive prospect:

1.) Leave a voice mail with your name and firm, and indicate you'll be calling back a second time at a precise date and time.
2.) Call back at the exact aforementioned date and time. If your call once again ends up in voice mail hell, leave a message with your name, firm and this time, provide your phone number as well. That'll show 'em!
3.) Call back a third time. If you find yourself once again in business development's version of Dante's Inferno, leave all of your particulars, and move on. You have a life to lead.

Francis says we new business types shouldn't take it personally when a prospect goes silent. She says it's not about us. It's about them.

I disagree. An agency deserves an explanation when it devotes countless hours and out-of-pocket expenses to pursue a piece of business. As everyone knows, time is money.

There's simply no excuse for a prospective client to maintain radio silence. It's rude. And, I'm sorry Colleen, but there's no strategy for dealing with jerks.

While boorish prospect behavior occurs in every industry, two of my all-time favorite Peppercom examples were with law firms.

One was headquartered in Cleveland. The CMO called us one day, said we were on the short list and invited us to travel to her city to present our credentials. We did so. But, a key partner missed the meeting. So, she insisted we fly back within a few days in order to meet the AWOL executive (hinting that doing so would seal the deal). So we went, met the partner and then never, ever heard another word.

The second law firm was West Coast based and, like its peer in the Midwest, said we were one of a few agencies they'd shortlisted.

We orchestrated a joint presentation: some of us went to the firm's Manhattan office while our West Coast president traveled to the prospect's headquarters. We were then connected by video and began the presentation. When it had ended, we were confident we'd done well. And, then we heard absolutely nothing. Finally, after countless voice mails and months of silence, we were told they'd chosen a local firm in their hometown since proximity was a key consideration (a fact that was never mentioned even once).

Believe it or not, the same West Coast firm put us through an identical wheel-spinning exercise a few years later (and, then went permanently, and mercifully, silent).

If we had been in court for either law firm pitch, I'd have stood up and shouted, “I object your honor. The defendant's silence qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.” But, since the judge is probably a former lawyer as well, I'm sure he'd respond with a swift, “Objection overruled!”

When it comes to new business, silence is anything but golden. 


This post is dedicated to Peppercom's Peppercom's killer bees:

Ann Barlow and Ted Birkhahn.

Mar 07

What’s your firm’s batting average?

We did pretty well at a leading PR industry awards program last week. Of the six programs we submitted for judging, two were named finalists. And, of those two, one won an award. So, if this particular awards' program embraced transparency, they'd have listed Peppercom's batting average as follows:

 .333 (for programs nominated)
 .500 (for finalists that won)
Sadly, there isn't ANY transparency in ANY industry awards program. And, that's a shame because, as last week's event made clear to anyone in attendance, the large agencies TOTALLY dominate the proceedings.


It got so bad that, in one category, the finalists for the 'best of' award were: “Edelman, Edelman, Ketchum, Edelman and Ketchum”. Needless to say, there was tremendous suspense as 1,000 or so attendees held our collective breath to hear the happy news: “And, the winner is… Ketchum!” Oh happy days!
Not only do the large agencies dominate every category, they also submit the same program again and again and again. The IBM Watson/Ketchum program was PR's version of 'The Artist.' It must have won 11 awards, including 'Best Screenplay by a Computer'.

The various PR awards' organizers refuse to level the playing field and fix the outrageous inequities by charging large agencies a lot more money per submission. They won't though. They say only the best programs win in each category. Maybe. Maybe not. When one is evaluating the 16th submission from Burson in the B-to-B category, one's eyes tend to glaze over.
So, rather than fix the fee structure, I have an alternative suggestion:
Our industry prides itself on authenticity and transparency, correct?

If so, why not publish everyone's batting average for the night? So, while Ketchum and Edelman may have won seven or eight awards each, it would be fascinating to know how many entries each submitted
Large agencies pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the awards process. I know this for a fact, having served as a judge for PRSA, PR News, PR Week, The Holmes Report and others, In fact, I vividly recall reviewing a single category comprised of 80 entries overall. Get this: half of the submissions came from two large agencies. That's just, plain wrong.
So, how about it? How about publishing a post awards scorecard that looks something like this:
1.) Ketchum:
 - Total submissions: 101.
 - Total finalists: 11.
 - Batting average: .100
2.) Edelman:
 - Total submissions: 3,521.
 - Total finalists: 17.
 - Batting average: .003
3.) Padilla Spear Beardsley:
 - Total submissions: 3.
 - Total finalists: 1.
 - Batting average: .333
If the playing field were truly level, we'd see who the night's REAL winners were.

Mar 06

Do clients consider your firm a ‘nonproductive’ expenditure?


For every article I read in PR Week, The Holmes Report or on the Arthur W. Page web site congratulating our industry for having won a seat at the coveted C-suite table, I see just as many advertising trade stories reporting the exact opposite.

The most recent example appeared in the February 13th edition of Ad Age, and was entitled, 'Pepsi shops not feeling the love as marketer trims their ranks 65%".

According to the article, Pepsi's army of advertising and PR firms were stunned to hear the beverage company's CEO Indra Nooybi say the North America Division had identified 100 ad and PR agencies it planned to eliminate from its roster. Oh, the humanity!

Now, I'll grant you that 100 firms may be a tad excessive, but Ms. Nooybi broke the news at a quarterly analyst meeting and, says Ad Age, caught the agencies completely flat-footed. What an impersonal way in which to be fired (and, what a shot across the bow that screams “No, PR types, you most assuredly have NOT earned a seat at Pepsi's C-suite table!”).

In the same article, Unilever's Chief Financial Officer Jean-Marc Huet said his company had reduced 'nonproductive' spending, which he classified as “…the money we spend on production costs and agency fees.” Merde! So much for a seat at the Unilever C-suite table.

I feel the pain of the many firms being handed pinks slips as you read this.

We've been fired over the years by some clients that didn't, and never will, recognize PR, advertising or any other marketing discipline as being C-suite worthy.

My favorite recent tale involves a retail client who called to thank us for our fine work, but to let us know our budget would be spent, instead, on a technology upgrade. Now, we've been replaced by an Edelman or a BBDO or even an in-house team, but we've never been dumped in favor of an infrastructure investment. That's akin to being told by the computer nerds you can't have a seat at their cafeteria table.

I understand the bottom-line obsessed, numbers crunching-crazed CEO or CFO who doesn't get the strategic contribution that PR provides. These individuals are classically-trained salesmen, accountants or engineers who can't measure branding, positioning, sentiment or social media. So, they dismiss it.

I'm glad to see the PR industry making progress within certain, enlightened corporations. But, I think we violate our own principles of truth and transparency when we keep publishing “we've arrived!” stories at the same time global marketers are firing us and referring to our services as nonproductive spending.

Mar 05

There’s nothing magical about mixed messages

I've long disliked the Disney experience. In fact, when I think of Disney, my mind conjures up such memories as:

– Endless lines of screaming kids and stressed out parents broiling under Florida's Vietnam jungle-like humidity.
– Outrageous a la carte pricing for items ranging from Mickey and Minnie rain ponchos to $25 Goofy burgers.
– A bully of a brand that crushes competitors and mistreats agencies.


So, I must say enjoyed reading about Disney's total bungling of a brand new exhibit at Epcot Center called Habit Heroes. The now closed education exhibit was created in collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Its intent: to teach kids healthy eating habits. So far, so good.

But, then, Disney's Imagineers took a wrong turn that would have made even Davey Crockett scratch his head in wonder. They populated the Habit Heroes exhibit with the likes of:

– Snacker, a zaftig fairy, who eats too much fatty, processed food.
– Glutton, a bean-bag shaped mob figure. – And, Lead Bottom, whose name speaks for itself.

These obese, bad guys do battle with the fit, muscular Will Power and Callie Stenics. And, get this, the kids visiting Epcot Center are encouraged to use arcade guns to shoot vegetables at the cream puffs and hot dogs surrounding Snacker, Glutton and Lead Bottom.

All of which has outraged various academics and family advocate groups who see the new exhibit as no different than the grammar and high school bullies who belittle America's obese young people (who now account for a staggering 17 percent of the total). The experts also point to the record numbers of teens who, unable to match the body-perfect images of Will Power and Callie Stenics, find themselves battling eating disorders, ranging from anorexia to bulimia.

Worst of all are the mixed messages being sent by Disney. Just a few feet away from the Habit Heroes Education exhibit lay a vast array of fast food stands, selling hyper-priced hot dogs, funnel cakes and cotton candy.

One wonders what the late, great Walt Disney would make of his 'do as we say not as we do’ theme parks and businesses? Would he simply shrug his shoulders at the mixed messages and continue to whistle while he worked? I don't think so. I think Walt would admit fault, make immediate changes and, in doing so, quote another artist, Will Shakespeare, who wrote, 'The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.'

(And a tip o' RepMan's mouse-eared cap to Greg Schmalz for this idea.)