May 16


Guest post by Michael Dresner, CEO of Brand² Squared Licensing, the strategic licensing division at Peppercom

The argument is always the same. Anytime we’re preparing for a new business pitch, our team debates how many big ideas we introduce to a prospective client.  If the ideas are too voluminous, too good, too detailed, too imitable, an agency risks having the ideas stolen from them.

3827600e77c300078f7f8b3cda80f7baI take the opposite approach.  Put your best foot forward.  Always.  Good clients will reward you for your enthusiasm and creativity.  If they don’t hire you, they’ll act honorably.  The bad ones are few.  And if a prospect pilfers our ideas without hiring us, they’ll lose in the long-run.

My philosophy was challenged this week.  I received a third call, in as many years, from a prospect – a blue chip media brand with international reach – that is uncertain about strategic licensing.  Fair enough.  Our job in a pitch is not only to give them our best ideas, but also provide objective counsel to help them make the best decisions.  When a prospective client is asking the same questions after three years, chances are they’re exploring and not buying.  Fair enough again.

One of our key ideas was to extend this brand into the space of airport retail.  If you’ve ever seen a New York Times store, or a PGA outlet, or a Fox Sports diner at an airport, those are licensed.  Third party operators pay a royalty to those brands mentioned, every time a charge card is swiped.  So those alliances can be very lucrative for both parties.

Today, during my third meeting with this prospect, I found out the brand extended into a licensed airport retail concept.  The concept opened for business at a top 25 U.S. airport in the last month, and initial volume is so high the operator has leased a second space in a top 5 airport on the West Coast. OK. Maybe the idea stemmed elsewhere coincidentally.

We checked the licensee’s press release however – and it included language our agency drafted in our new business pitch two years ago.

After taking all of this in, I said, Wow.  Did you hire someone to help you?  No, they said.  We spent the last year doing it ourselves.

That’s great, I said.  How is the store doing?  Well, they replied, we’re not sure.

Did you go to the opening? I asked.  No, they responded.  We haven’t gotten there yet.

Oh.  Well, aren’t you intrigued by what it looks like and who’s shopping there?  I asked.

They chuckled and said the manager keeps promising to send pictures.

I still believe the bad ones are few, and in the long run, they will lose.   But I have a few (final) words for this particular prospect.  And these are ideas you can steal:

You had multiple chances to candidly tell us you couldn’t retain a 3rd party agency but had an opportunity to move forward with one of our ideas nonetheless.  That would have stung, but not like this.  As a gesture of good faith we might have helped you.

All of the work we showed to you had a copyright on it.  You have in-house counsel.  We met them.  We’re not going to sue you.  Just sayin’.

Most importantly –  Let’s say you extend a brand with decades of global viewership into the hands of a 3rd party retailer – and spend a full year on the alliance.  You aren’t able to fly three hours to visit the store location, look behind every fixture, review every category for sale, watch each employee as they represent your equity to hundreds – thousands – of airport travelers newly experiencing your brand.  This basic due diligence is as good a reason to hire an outside firm as I can imagine.  It’s an example of the many agency services we provide to clients.  The best (brand) managers know their bandwidth, recognize what lies outside their time or expertise, and hire the right resources to do good work.   Otherwise pitfalls abound.

I sincerely hope this idea flourishes – we worked hard on it, and on some level it would be fulfilling to watch.  But if it fails in execution, this prospect made its own bed.  And, regretfully, they’d get what they deserve.

May 15

Public enemy number one

Mcdonalds_is_evilThere's no question the noose is tightening around the neck of Ronald McDonald, the clownish icon of the global fast food chain.

First, a recent Ad Age cover story suggested Ronald is this generation's Joe Camel. Then, a USA Today cover story projected that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030, noting “…the country is already saturated with fast-food restaurants, cheap junk food and technologies that render people sedentary at home and work.” Ronald is responsible for the first two.

Since his 'birth' five decades ago, Ronald has done as much damage as all the hurricanes, tsunamis and pandemics combined. He just does it more slowly (like Joe Camel, his fellow merchant of death).

McDonald's, though, remains in complete denial. Neil Golden, chief marketing officer of the artery-clogging colossus, said, “Ronald represents the joy and fun of the McDonald's brand and brings happiness to people of all ages.” He also brings hypertension, stroke and diabetes.

Golden says Ronald “…delivers messages to families on many subjects such as safety, literacy, anti-bullying and the importance of physical activity.” The importance of physical activity? Ever try running a 10k race after inhaling a Happy Meal? That can't bring much happiness to any runner.

I support the nutrition and health activists who say Ronald McDonald is pushing a product just as dangerous as cigarettes.

The tobacco industry was forced to drop Joe Camel in 1998 as part of a Master Settlement Agreement with the government. Since it's clear the fast food barons who run Mickey D's won't voluntarily retire Ronald, I think it's time for the government to once again take action.

And, here's why: if Ronald, Tony the Tiger, the (Burger) King and other childhood icons are allowed to continue luring kids into a lifetime of obesity, our nation's healthcare costs will continue to soar. But, if we stop Ronald, Tony and the King NOW, USA Today says “…the country will save $549.5 billion in weight-related medical expenditures from now till 2030.” Talk about taking a bite out of the national debt. Wow!

If J. Edgar Hoover was still alive and Ronald McDonald were linked to as many deaths as he is, the former F.B.I. director would unquestionably name him public enemy number one. And, hopefully, Edgar would gun him down just as quickly and efficiently as he did with Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie & Clyde. Ronald deserves no mercy.

May 14

The United States of Accountability

BuckkIn light of the $2 billion J.P. Morgan Chase debacle, it occurs to me that accountability is dead and buried.

In the good old days, a CEO would hold himself accountable for such a calamity and resign. As Harry S Truman was famous for saying of the presidency, 'The buck stops here.'

But, the buck never seems to stop anywhere anymore. For example:

– Mitt Romney can't remember butchering a classmate's head in a prep school bullying incident. And, we let him slide.
– McDonald's and its ilk continue to rack up record profits while our nation's obesity rates and healthcare costs skyrocket in direct proportion.
– Yankees pitcher Andy Petite suddenly suffers memory loss and, after publicly stating that Roger Clemens had turned him into a juicer, now can't remember the incident ever happening.
– Genuinely bad guys such as Mike Wallace and Steve Jobs are hailed as heroes after their passings; yet each was positively brutal in his dealings with others. Wallace's interview of Secret Service Agent Clint Hill on 60 Minutes remains the single most watched episode (and, the best example of entrapment I've ever seen).

And, speaking of the Secret Service, why didn't Janet Napolitano, head of the TSA, take a bullet for the presidential advance team's boorish behavior in Cartagena, Colombia?

If I were running for the Oval Office, I'd be laser focused on holding our leaders accountable. I'd insist on Wall Street CEOs being fired for rogue trades. I'd demand that any and all Catholic bishops found guilty of covering up pedophilia serve time in prison. I'd haul the CEOs of McDonald's, Burger King and other junk food purveyors before a Congressional board and ask them to explain why they're lining their pockets while expanding our waistlines.

There's more, much more. But, I want to save some ammunition for the first debate with Obama and Romney.

So, forget about 'Forward', 'Change' or 'America First'. My platform is simple, yet fundamental to future success: I want to change the meaning of the letter A in U.S.A. Let's start building a United States of Accountability. Just don't hold me accountable for the results.

May 10

Same Meat, Different Gravy: Why Must Companies Always Choose Experience Over Ideas

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Ann Barlow.

5159644682_4af1c71ae3_o Swedish-meatballs   

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a client prospect say, "We were very impressed with your people and ideas.  But we've decided to go with another agency based on the all the experience they have in our industry," I would be writing this from a beach somewhere instead of my Peppercom office.

For many of the things we hire people to do — paint our house, operate on our bodies, even sue  our enemies — it makes sense to choose the one who has done what we need many times over.

But when it comes to public relations and marketing, how far does experience really get you? Think about it.  If you choose an agency based mostly on their knowledge of your industry, the good news is that they can hit the ground running.  If that is what is most important, then you probably should select the experienced agency.  They'll know the key issues and players in the industry.  They'll still need an in immersion session with you and your colleagues, but most of that time will be spent on your particular business, not the broader context.  After that, they can start delivering output, whatever form that may take.

But what happens after that?  And what if you need to update your image?  Introduce a new product or service?  Enter new markets?  With so much on the line, why would you default to choosing an agency because it's worked with a competitor instead of an ability to deliver a smart strategy and a fresh, creative program? 

And after a couple of months, any agency is going to know you and your business.  That's what we do.  Then you'll REALLY need the creative thinking, because industry knowledge will not be enough to craft and deliver on a program that will help you break through.

I think companies do this because a) they don't think enough about the long term; b) we as human beings tend to go with what's comfortable; c) it feels less risky.

Right now, we are competing for a piece of business where we KNOW we have impressed the company with smart thinking, excellent process and breakthrough ideas.  AND we did our homework, so we also came to the table with real knowledge.  But we also know we're at a disadvantage to an agency that has been in the prospect's field for many years.  The prospect feels comforted by that.

Look, I've been on the other side, too, where a prospect liked that we knew their industry well.  But even then, I'd rather be chosen for the excellent work we did over the experience we gained.

I challenge businesses to look beyond experience as the principle criterion for choosing an agency.  If not, don't be surprised if your program becomes tired after a few months of operating under the same old frame of reference. You know — same meat, different gravy.  Time to try a new dish.

May 09

Who’s your James Cherry?

Picture1James Cherry scared the living daylights out of me when I was eight years old. He was two years older, 40 pounds heavier and routinely picked on me in front of my friends. It wasn't until my father, a former welterweight boxer, taught me how to duck an incoming punch and then deliver a counter blow that I forever ended James Cherry's reign of terror.

I used James Cherry as a metaphor in a speech Tuesday before the PRSA's Counselors Academy's annual Spring Conference.

If you're not familiar with the Academy, it's populated by the best and brightest owners and senior executives of America's best small and medium-sized public relations firms.

Like the young Steve Cody, though, many of these small and medium-sized firms are scared to death by the bully on the block: the top 10 largest PR firms. They're worried by the size and scope of the big guys. They're awed by the clout they wield. And, they're dying to know how one could possibly slay such a Goliath in a new business presentation.

As a recovering Big AgencyAholic, I told my peers I knew exactly how the Top 10 firms went to market. I knew their strengths. And, critically, I knew their many weaknesses.  My presentation focused on the latter, because it's my belief that, if one knows an opponent's weaknesses, one can exploit them to one's advantage.

And, so I shared what many clients already know:

– Large agencies have multiple P&L centers, all of whom fight like cats and dogs for a percentage of the client's budget. For large agency leaders, it's not about doing what's in the client's best interests but, rather, generating the growth and profit numbers imposed on the large agency by its holding company.

– The holding company is, in fact, THE client to every large agency. Satisfying the financial demands of the holding company determines the pay and bonus structure of every large agency's executive team. The client always finishes a distant second to the holding company when it comes to mind share.

– If you were the very best public relations counselor, would you work for someone else? That's my bottom-line. And, it's a question I always ask prospects when they're trying to decide between Peppercom and a Top 10 agency. Up-and-coming PR talent is attracted to smaller and midsized firms because they might one day have an opportunity to run the agency and share in the profits. That opportunity simply doesn't exist at Top 10 firms. And, that's why the latter attract outstanding administrators, bureaucrats and politically-astute players adept at building their own fiefdoms while undermining a peer's.

I'd much rather compete against an Ogilvy, Burson or Golin than a Padilla Spear Beardsley, CRT/Tanaka or Coyne. The former have many vulnerabilities; the latter few.

The sooner small and medium-sized agencies wise up to the fact that the big guys are just puffed up, latter day versions of James Cherry, the sooner they'll begin exploiting the neighborhood bully's weaknesses and start winning major accounts.

Trust me. Clients are just as tired of the James Cherrys as we, independent firms are. They're just looking for more of us to uncover the big bully's weaknesses and offer smart, strategic and more cost-effective alternatives.

Here's the best news of all: My dad's still alive and well, and available to begin teaching smaller agencies how to effectively counter punch. And, there's the bell for round one!

May 08

A low blow by the NY Times

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson

Have you heard about the recent barroom brawl at the tony New York Athletic Club? No, well apparently it was a doozie, the likes of which that storied Club has not seen in its almost 150 year history. 

Apparently it had everything: men from 18 to 80, not-so lady like women, otherwise stuffy bartenders, square-jawed members, hair brained non-members, the police, cowboys and indians. Three arrests. Two hospitalizations.  One really pissed off club president.

According to blogger on Wall Street Jackass: "two broken noses right off the bat, one dude knocked straight on his butt on the first punch, glasses thrown, broken glass everywhere , and all the tables turned over or shoved to the side, they were making their arena…”  I envision a cross between a battering in ‘Rocky’ and a Three Stooges pie fight. 

It’s noted not just because of how down and out a brutish melee it was, but also because it played out within the confines of one of the country’s most exclusive and decorum soaked clubs.

The New York Times got its mitts on a letter President Colin O'Neill sent privately to members in which he strongly encouraged members to keep incident details quiet and "Similarly, the distribution of via the various social media of photographs and letters that are detrimental to the Club and its reputation will not be tolerated."

So what does the Times do? They use this story to debut its new feature “Kids Draw the News.” With this new offering which they call for children under 12 “to render a current event in pictorial form.”  WHAT?

Is this a case of one-downsmanship?  We have a low-class brawl in a high-class club and a once revered newspaper resorting to childish pranks to drum up readers. I don’t object to the feature, but if this lead story is indicative of what’s in store, I shudder to think what’s next:
•    A pre-pubescent teenager drawing his interpretation of a rape that occurred in the Bronx last weekend?  Done in colored pencils.
•    School bus off the cliff, killing 10 kids? This is what it looks like to little Susie from Miss Mary Margaret’s pre-school.  Rendered in red finger paint, of course.
•    Federal Border Patrol officers nabbed a family of 12 trying to skooch under a fence separating Mexico from Arizona. Oops! Somebody’s head didn’t make it, but it makes for a fine Crayola illustration by a 7 year-old.

Shame on you NYTimes. You make the slobs from the Athletic Club look perfectly angelic.

May 07

An Apple I-Pad Experience can be destroyed by a Microsoft Zune-type behavior

Thanks to Carl "Union Jack" Foster for the idea and headline.

Ever have a horrible experience with a superior brand? It's one thing to have that experience as a consumer; it's quite another to have it as a public relations counselor to a world-class corporation. 

17vgqwWe've had the privilege of representing many Fortune 500 corporations over the years, and most have employed superb, in-house corporate communications executives. But, the exceptions have forever influenced their employers' image and reputation in my mind.

For example:

– Our direct report at a global organization easily qualified as one of the most reprehensible clients in agency history. In addition to picking her nose in front of the team and emitting various noises from multiple orifices, she devised nicknames for our account executives. 'So, where are hairy knuckles and chesty today?' she'd ask one of our team members. She was derisive, corrosive and offensive.

– Our direct report at one of Silicon Valley's true legends loved to bully and belittle our team. He'd use such epithets as 'stupid', 'moronic' and 'idiotic' to describe our strategic recommendations. Then, when I'd confront him and ask that he cease and desist, he'd plead ignorance. 'Me?' I'd never say anything like that, 'In fact, my wife would kill me if I ever used those words with our kids.'

– More recently, the head of two separate business units within one well-known company, hired us to represent both entities. After six months, she decided to end one relationship, and shift the business to a smaller firm. That was fine with us, since our direct report gave more mixed messages than a presidential candidate. But, then the senior executive hinted that she'd end the other relationship if we didn't agree to eat some of the unpaid fees of the former. Needless to say, any feelings of pride associated with representing the well-known brand disappeared faster than a New York Mets winning streak.

Nowadays, I cringe whenever I hear the names of these three august organizations. And, it's because each had an Apple i-Pad type image that was tarnished by a Microsoft Zune-type employee's behavior.

While a boorish PR director, CMO or business manager's actions usually won't adversely impact the image and reputation of a great corporation, they will produce a ripple effect.

The first executive, for example, now runs a West Coast PR firm. I don't know much about that organization but, by simply naming her the top dog, the firm's ownership is telling me that results trump people. Sadly, it also confirms legendary Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Leo Durocher's statement that 'Nice guys finish last.'

It's a shame to see bad people drag down good organizations. It's even worse to see these same thugs re-surface and continue to do wrong at new venues. There ought to be a law.

May 04

Moms to Advertisers: The Shoe Don’t Fit

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Maggie O'Neill.

Maggies mmmblogFifty years ago, Marketing to Moms was perceivably simple.  Based on historic icons and a few episodes of Mad Men, reaching moms was one dimensional and focused purely on making June Cleaver’s life easier.  Now, the women of that time may disagree about the singular dimension approach, but it worked.  And it worked well for large ad agencies relying on piles of research to identify the singular mom audience.  Not anymore.

According to a recent blog from EmpowHER, 91% of women feel that advertisers do not understand her.  The problem here is that “her” is more multi-dimensional than ever, and old research methods and blanket ad campaigns are just not getting it.  Marketers today need to be more nimble and have honest dialogues with their female consumers.  The secret sauce that worked to sell home appliances to the perfect housewife now involves 25+ recipes to reach the moms of today.  Let’s start with the basics – there are single moms, divorced moms, married moms, moms by mistake, grandmoms being moms, moms to pets, etc.  Then we get into situation analysis like the miserable moms, the perfect moms (or they think they are), the active moms and more.  So how can one brand or agency claim to be able to reach this moving target? 

Listening is the first step and recognizing that no amount of expensive research can uncover what honest conversations can.  Second is having these conversations where your consumer is and not forcing them to come to your sandbox.  For example, last year Frito-Lay made great strides communicating their healthy brand promise by partnering with Farmville to let social gamers learn about the ingredients in their products.  And it worked.  And finally, it has to be authentic.  Let’s be honest, Kelly Ripa doing laundry and cooking with her Electrolux appliances is about as un-authentic as you can get (at least in this blogger’s mind).  Why not show real women – and all types– struggling with daily chores, re-heating the takeout and running to Home Depot to fix things herself. 

Agencies that continue to target just June Cleaver are not only getting left behind, but ignored by moms and trampled on by other, more authentic brands.  They can’t see themselves in June’s shoes and they are letting brands know this loud and clear. Remember, hell hath no fury…

May 03

Invoicing means never having to say you’re sorry

I distinctly remember my first boss at Hill & Knowlton telling me Uniroyal was very late in paying its invoices and that I needed to collect the outstanding monies ASAP. ”This makes both of us look really bad to management,” he warned me.
But, before I could pick up the phone, my boss provided some additional counseling. “Come up with a list of day-to-day activities, provide Lynn with updates and, then, at the very end, apologize to her for having to even mention the subject of money, but ask if she'd mind checking on our invoices,” he suggested.
I did as I was told. And, since Hill & Knowlton still exists, I'm assuming they eventually collected those outstanding invoices.
Sadly, though, and judging by the way our staff views overdue client payments, my former boss's POV remains alive and well.
My business partner, Ed, and our CFO, Debbie, are changing that mindset. They have to because, whether it's a lingering hangover from the 2008 market crash as Ed suggests, or some other reason, lots of clients are very, very late in paying us.
That's wrong for a number of reasons. Clients hire PR firms to be their strategic business partners. Partners don't string along other partners when it comes to payment. Further, the best clients realize that an agonizingly slow payment process impacts their image and reputation, as well as their organizations.
I was sitting alongside one of our senior partners when she alerted a client to an unbelievably late series of invoices. The client was not only embarrassed, she actually interrupted the meeting to speak with her counterpart in accounts payable. That's what I call a caring and compassionate client.
Sadly, though, she's in the minority. Some clients 'lose' our invoices. Others claim to have never received them in the first place. And, then there are those who have been instructed by procurement not to pay any vendor in less than 180 days.
We've agreed to tell a few of these tardy clients that we're prepared to stop all work until we're paid. We're also adding 'payment status' to every single reporting chart we use to review a campaign's progress with a client. Last, but not least, we're re-educating our staff on the importance of collections to our agency's health. No one needs to apologize when asking a client to promptly pay their bills. In fact, we're suggesting it kick-off some conversations because it's SO important.
I'd like to see our industry trade press address this issue. It's another one of those uncomfortable realities that plague every agency, large and small, but is ignored completely by the watchdogs that cover our field.
In my opinion, invoicing means never having to say you're sorry.

May 02

Pitch this

Have you had an opportunity to watch 'The Pitch' on AMC? For those of you not in the know, it's Advertising.yet another artificial reality TV show. In this case, though, the plot revolves around two real-world advertising agencies pitching a living, breathing client.

But, after that, all semblance of reality checks out faster than the average viewer of a Madison Avenue-produced commercial.

To begin with, the client, Subway, provides a simultaneous briefing to both agencies who are sharing the same conference room. That never happens. Not only are agencies kept apart from one another, it's sometimes harder than pulling teeth to get a prospect to even tell you who your competition is.

After the Subway briefing, we follow the two firms back to their respective headquarters as they sweat bullets to turn around campaign ideas in one week's time. Instead of displaying the strategy and depth of thinking one would expect from each ad agency we see, instead, a bunch of nonsensical, superficial ideas and tons of internecine backbiting.

The winning campaign is actually laughably bad in terms of originality, messaging and credibility. Critically, although each agency's assignment had been to help Subway reach the 18-to-24 year old breakfast buyer, we see no attempt by either firm to listen to any member of the age cohort. Instead, like all ad agencies do, the two competitors insulated themselves in conference room, batted around ideas and ended up creating three top down, inside out campaigns.

As one copywriter said of one approach, "We can't make this look like a commercial. If we do, the viewer will immediately change channels." Bingo! And, there you have the fundamental reason why advertising is in decline and PR is ascending. Advertising talks at people; PR engages in conversations with them.

The Pitch is just another variation on the now tired reality TV format. I predict it'll last a season, maybe two. But, if AMC wants to capture a real moment about where communications is headed, I suggest they fire the ad agencies and, instead, find some PR firms who are on the cutting edge of where the conversation is headed. Until then, I'm going to follow that copywriter's advice when I next spot The Pitch on TV; I'm going to channel surf. The show is just as artificial as the industry it portrays.