Jul 13

There’s nothing Olympian about this decision

1115-china_full_600Did you know every single piece of apparel to be worn by the U.S. Olympic team at the opening ceremonies was made in China? That's right. The runners, swimmers and others will be sporting Ralph Lauren blazers, slacks and berets made in China.

This jaw-dropping news comes at a time when U.S. unemployment remains fixed above eight percent and American textile workers are literally starving for work.

To make matters even worse, the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn't care. When confronted with the facts, a USOC spokesperson said, “The U.S. Olympic Committee is privately funded and we're grateful for the support of our sponsors. We're proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company.” No apology. No explanation. More like a “…take your patriotism and shove it!”

The USOC's decision, and subsequent justification of it, qualifies as dumb and dumber. It's the equivalent of reputational suicide. And, the person who made it is either desperate for dollars, completely clueless or has been smoking some serious Chinese-made opium.

But, having gotten into bed with Chinese apparel makers, why stop there? Why not also provide our U.S. athletes with:

– Cuban cigars

– Belgian chocolates

– Swiss Birkenstocks

– Mexican sombreros

– Japanese kimonos

In fact, why bother equipping U.S. athletes with anything at all associated with America? I'd go the full bore on this one and rename the U.S. Olympic Committee itself. I can think of a few, new appropriate names:

– The Benedict Arnold Olympic Committee

– The America Last Olympic Committee

– The United Nations Olympic Committee

How about you? What other foreign-made accessories would you provide to our team? And, what new moniker would you hang on this shameful lot of executives who outsource apparel to foreign countries?

There ought to be a law against something like this.

And a tip o' RepMan's American made hat to Greg Schmalz for this idea.

Jul 12

Ask not for whom the door revolves

Matthew-diffee-office-with-poster-on-the-wall-for-c-e-o-of-the-month-new-yorkbbbbber-cartoonOne need only to read the PR trades to see that agency life in general, and big agency life in particular, is a never-ending revolving door. It seems like some head of healthcare at one holding company agency is ALWAYS leaving to assume the exact same spot at another holding company agency.

And, although the trades never connect the dots, it's also become commonplace for holding companies to report 'record profits' in one quarter only to silently announce a 10 percent staff reduction in the next.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that personal brand building has never been more important. In fact, I'd argue that lifetime employment has joined military intelligence as a textbook definition of an oxymoron.

That's why I found this Top 10 list from Ford R. Myers so compelling. Myers is a career coach who has just penned a book, entitled: 'Get the job you want, even when no one's hiring.'

I was especially taken by numbers three, four and seven on the list:

– Don't just join trade associations. Take leading roles in them.
– Constantly publish your POV on industry issues.
– Help others, even if they're not in a position to help you right away.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that job offers and, more importantly for the owner of a midsized firm, new business leads have come about as a direct result of my embracing these three specific strategies.

Too many communications professionals wait far too long to begin building their personal brands. As a result, when the Grim Reaper does come around, they're not only stunned, they're also damaged goods (i.e. they've done the same thing for so long that their skills aren't transferable).

Study the Myers list and, whether you're 22 or 52, take his advice to heart. The more people you know and who know you, the better your chances of sustaining a lifelong career path. Make the mistake of focusing solely on your day-to-day work and, one day soon, you'll find yourself a middle-aged, one trick pony who no one knows and no one is in any hurry to hire.

Ask not for whom the door revolves. It revolves for you.

Jul 11

It’s what the brand delivers that matters most

Design team JPGI recently decided to experience what it was like to be a newly-hired employee of Peppercom. I did so for a number of reasons:

– I'd been told our orientation experience was less than stellar.
– I'm a firm believer in changing roles with employees and experiencing exactly what it's like to be a receptionist, account executive or, in this most recent example, a freshly-minted senior account executive.
– I believe in testing my organization's brand promise and finding out if what we say in our marketing messages does, in fact, reflect what we deliver in the real world.

I'm pleased to say my first-day orientation was quite enjoyable. Our human resources manager spent a full half-hour reviewing our benefits and explaining to my why I couldn't walk around the hallways wearing my iPod earphones (I'd shown up for work with my earphones in and Ziggy Marley wailing away. I was told that was a no-no).

My direct manager explained my roles and responsibilities on the three accounts to which I'd been assigned. And, my ‘buddy' walked me around our two floors and introduced me to scores and scores of Peppercommers. Ah, but that's when I hit a snag. As we strolled around, my buddy pointed out our conference rooms. “That's fourth floor large. That's fourth floor small. This is the living room and, upstairs, we have the fifth floor large and small conferences rooms,” he said.

My buddy's words stopped me in my tracks. Staying in character, I asked him a question: “Why would a creative agency not have creative names for the conference rooms?” My buddy shrugged his shoulders, and my tour continued.

Guess what? We're now holding a firm-wide competition to name our five conference rooms. We've already had some sketchy suggestions, though:

– Manhattan's five boroughs. Ugh. Would you attend a brainstorm in the Staten Island Room? Maybe if we were pitching the Waste Management account, but that's about it.
– Five different cuts of meat (i.e. lamb, pork, etc.). Something tells me our vegans would never set foot in the roast loin room.
– Iconic authors and actors (that would work if we were an entertainment firm).
– Dead and dying white male journalists (Hello! Has anyone heard of diversity in the workplace?).
– Famous landmarks in London, San Francisco and New York (We do have offices in each city but, c'mon people, these names are for our Manhattan workplace! Explain why the Alcatraz Room makes sense? That said, the latter would be an ideal moniker for Ed's office.)

Happily, I have no say in the final decision. But, I am glad we're making the change.

I believe every single aspect of the workplace reflects on the overall brand promise. That's one of the reasons I waxed poetic about Zappos in yesterday's blog. Their office environment truly embodies the brand promise of 'delivering happiness'.

I think each and every one of you should check out your organization's brand promise (i.e. 'We understand the power of people' or 'Starting conversations since 1948. Influencing them since 1980'). See if your office experience is aligned with the words. I'll bet it isn't (and, btw, that's your opportunity to shine with management. Suggest workplace changes that WOULD make the promise ring true).

Conference room names may seem trivial to you, but I think they're part of the holistic way in which every communicator should be thinking nowadays. Who cares what the brand promises? It's what the brand delivers that matters most.

Jul 10

Where everyone is a customer service agent

Peri_shake_weightImagine an organization in which everyone from IT and finance to marketing and human resources considers herself a customer service agent. Their sole focus? Ensuring they're following through on the company's brand promise: delivering happiness.

Such an organization exists. In fact, I recently had the pleasure of taking a personal, guided tour of its remarkable headquarters. If you haven't guessed by now, the company is Zappos. And, my tour was led by Corey Schreiber, whose title is Content Dude for Zappos Insights. Corey, and a surprisingly small team of fellow Zapponians, are responsible for any, and all, web site content.

As for his title, Corey said he was asked what he'd like it to be. "Everyone calls me dude, so I said to my boss, why not call me content dude?" Done.

On the off chance you're not familiar with them, Zappos is positively white hot. Not only are they THE gold standard of customer service, but the online retail destination is also considered best-in-class when it comes to building a great workplace culture. In fact, the company is making money hand-over-fist by charging OTHER corporations to visit their Las Vegas facilities and take a peek behind the curtains.

And, in the case of Zappos, there actually are curtains. And footballs. And full-sized models of Elvis. And, sports team and movie-themed hallways and cubicles. My favorite space is called Monkey Row. It reminded me of the Tanzanian jungle in which I hiked en route to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Monkey Row also happens to be the home of the company's rock star CEO Tony Hsieh. Tony's work space is so densely covered in vines, trees, plants and replicas of African wildlife that one could easily imagine himself on the Serengeti Plain.

I guess my favorite part of the Zappos tour, though, was the hike up and down the stairwells. And, it wasn't because I enjoy my daily cardio workouts. Au contraire. It's because of the graffiti that literally covers the walls. But, unlike the gang logos and unintelligible rants spray-painted on pre- Giuliani Manhattan subway cars and walls, the Zappos graffiti is chock full of joyous expressions.

Employees are encouraged to write their feelings on the walls. A visitor reads such bon mots as: 'That was the best meeting I ever attended!' and 'I learned more in the last 30 minutes than I have in the past 30 years,' and 'That dude, Rob, has amazing biceps!' The latter was a tad disturbing, but still…

My content dude tour guide told me Zappos doesn't just deliver happiness to customers. It hires joyous employees. “We hire with our values in mind so that we know we are bringing in people who best fit our culture and want to contribute to it. We have a motto that we are slow to hire and quick to fire.” I like that. And, I saw and felt that.

The Zapponians, as they call themselves, are a happy, swashbuckling bunch who also happen to be raking in serious cash. In fact, one wall contains plaques that list the all-time high daily sales records over the years. The first one was about seven years old, and proudly proclaimed $2 million in one-day sales. I think the most recent one was in the range of $17 million!

Fun isn't just fun. It's smart business. And, Zappos has figured out how to not only bottle that fun and share it with its rapidly-growing employee population; it's exporting it to the rest of the business world (and charging a pretty penny to do so). That's what I call funny business.

Having walked the hallways of GM, J. Walter Thompson, Yahoo and other Jurassic Era companies, I've felt the palpable air of fear. So,  it was simultaneously liberating and refreshing to experience the genuine energy and enthusiasm of Zappos. And to meet people who really do believe their job title begins with the words customer service agent.

So, do yourself a favor. The next time you schedule a vacation to Vegas, take a quick tour of Zappos in nearby Henderson. Aside from a dip in the pool and a beer, I can't think of a better way to put a smile back on one's face after an all-nighter at the blackjack tables.

Jul 09

Yahoo finally gets its wish

2012_05_11_Scott_ThompsonWhen we pitched Yahoo's business about four years ago, the PR director said the Internet dinosaur had one, single-minded goal: to become a verb. By that he meant Yahoo aspired to become synonymous with digital advertising in the same way its arch-nemesis, Google, had become with search.

The PR director's boss later told PR Week in a fawning profile that he was tired of "chasing a verb." He said his goal was for the executives at Google to worry what Yahoo was doing (and not vice versa). That line always made me laugh.

Well, both gentlemen are long gone (as are most of Yahoo's management team from those less than halcyon days). But, Yahoo HAS succeeded in becoming an adjective, if not a verb (and, NOT in the way they had originally intended).

As Marie Raperto's headline in Monday's CommPRO.biz indicates (and thanks to former CEO Scott Thompson), Yahoo has become synonymous with forging one's credentials on a resume.

CommPRO.biz asks human resources managers everywhere, 'Is a Yahoo resume scandal in your corporation's future? That's beautiful.

I can just see a gaggle of HR managers sipping cocktails at a Society of Human Resource Management conference, and discussing the adjective/verb conundrum:

Art: “We were Yahooed by a CFO candidate last year.”
Ritter: “You think that's bad? A board candidate said he'd studied ballet at Julliard. Turned out he had two left feet! Good thing I asked him to do a pirouette during the interview or we would be suffering the Yahoo blues right now.”
Adel: “I'm tired of being Yahooed!”
Mark: “Who isn't? Being Yahooed is the quickest way for one of us to lose our jobs. All we need to do is to mistakenly hire a Scott Thompson, and we're toast!”

I'd like to think what goes around comes around. The people at Yahoo were positively ruthless (and ruderless) in their Holy Grail-like quest to become a verb. In the end, all it took was one dishonest CEO to accomplish what all the king's PR men and all the king's PR horses couldn't: make Yahoo a verb.

So, has your organization been Yahooed?

Jul 05

A star spangled star

DowhatsrightI must admit to not knowing much about the black singer, and actress, Lena Horne.

I knew she was talented and drop-dead gorgeous. But, it wasn't until I read Emily Yellin's superb book, Our Mothers' War, that I learned about Horne's pioneering role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Yellin's 2004 tome shines the spotlight on the role women played here, and abroad, during World War II. It's a fascinating page-turner that covers everything from WACS and WAVES to female traitors, radio DJs, spies, and movie stars such as Horne.

Lena was one of the few black Hollywood entertainers recruited by the USO to perform for our troops. She had been the first black woman to have the power to have her contract with the studio stipulate that she would not play maids or jungle natives, which had previously been the only roles open for black women. And, although she was deeply frustrated by the Jim Crow segregation laws that existed at the time, Horne agreed to the USO's request that she perform two, separate shows every time: one for the white G.I's and another one for blacks.

This continued until she was on a domestic tour to entertain troops stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. Once there, Horne was told to stay two days. USO officials said she was needed to perform for white troops the first night, stay over, and then entertain black G.I.'s the next morning. She wasn't happy, but Horne agreed to change her plans and do the two performances.

Just before the second show began, however, Horne pulled aside the curtain and saw that the first few rows were full of white men, and the black American troops, who she was there to perform for, were seated behind them. 'Who are those guys?' she asked the stage manager. 'German P.O.W.'s,' he replied.

That was the final straw. Horne sang a few songs for the black G.I.'s, with her back turned on the Germans, completely ignoring them, then broke down and rushed off the stage. She headed to the nearest NAACP office and, with their help, issued a formal, written complaint to the USO. Horne stopped touring with the USO and, instead, underwrote her own, separate tour just to entertain the black troops in the evenings. That took some serious intestinal fortitude. 

Yellin reports that American blacks fought two world wars in the 1940's. In fact,  African-Americans spoke about a Double V: victory over the Axis forces and victory over segregation.

The first came with the surrenders of Germany and Japan, respectively. The second didn't begin in an organized way until 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, to end public school segregation. And, it didn't take full flight until the rest of the 1950s and the 1960s with the murder of Emmett Till, the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the riots in Watts, Newark, Detroit and elsewhere.

When I think of Independence Day, I think of great American heroes. After having read Yellin's book about Lena Horne's efforts to end racism in mid 20th century America, I'd now include her in that list.

I'd also draw your attention to the difference in Hollywood stars, then and now.

During WWII, we had celebrities such as Horne fighting for equal rights, Jimmy Stewart flying countless bombing missions over Nazi Germany and Carole Lombard losing her life in a plane crash during a war bond tour.

Compare those heavyweights with Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Snooki, and one can begin to see just one reason why America finds itself in its current condition. Today's heroes are pale imitations, to say the least.

It may be just one blogger's opinion, but I believe one Lena Horne was worth more than all the modern-day stars populating Hollywood lumped together. And, I can't think of a single star I'd call an American hero. Can you?

Jul 03

Hey, that was my idea!

PlagiarismA recent Wakefield Research survey of 1,000 American officer workers showed that more than two-thirds felt “…the worst type of boss is one who steals our ideas.” I agree. But, I'd add that the worst type of employee is one who steals ideas from her co-workers.

I've never worked for a boss who stole my ideas and presented them as his own. But, I have seen prospective clients borrow Peppercom ideas presented in a pitch, and then implement them either on their own or with some other firm. Sadly, while a firm can try to protect its ideas with an 'intellectual capital' warning on the PowerPoint and leave-behind, any lawyer worth his salt will tell you such verbiage won't stand-up in court.

Getting back to intellectual capital theft in the workplace, I can tell you we've experienced it at Peppercom. In one of the more egregious examples, an otherwise exemplary account supervisor repeatedly presented her team's media placements as her own. “Oh, I've known John Smith at Fast Company for years. He always takes my calls,” she'd tell the pleased client (even though a junior AE had secured the hit).

This went on for several months until the entire team (and this blogger) met with the client for an in-person quarterly review. After exchanging pleasantries, the client contact began raving about “Abigail”, her amazing media contacts and the quality of her placements.

I looked around the conference room to see looks of astonishment followed by rage. Sensing what had happened, I interrupted the client to say, “We do have a great team and Abigail does do a nice job of managing the moving parts. But, the results you're speaking of were Peppercom achievements, not just Abigail's.”

Knowing she'd been outed, Abigail blushed every shade of red and began stammering, “Steve's right. I'm very proud of these results.” She had the gall to continue claiming sole credit for the results. Rather than have the team pounce on her and begin pummeling the bejesus out of Abigail in front of the unsuspecting client, I instead moved the conversation onto other subjects.

Later, back at the ranch, we sat Abigail down and asked why she'd taken credit for the team's work. She burst into tears, and said she didn't realize the client was interpreting her remarks in such a way. “Yeah, sure,” I said, 'I'll bet you also have a bridge in Brooklyn you'd like to sell.” I told her she'll be fired if it happened again. It did. And, we fired her.

Taking credit for a co-worker's accomplishments tells me two things:

– If the employee will lie about this, she'll lie about anything.
– She doesn't have the ability to produce results on her own, so she claims credit for a subordinate's work.

The latter is key. This only happens when a person is in a position of power and believes her lieutenants would be too afraid to out her for intellectual capital theft. And, she's right (until a public opportunity such as the quarterly review described above occurs).

Taking credit for someone else's ideas isn't just petty and stupid. It's amateurish and belongs on Dorothy Crenshaw's list of Seven Most Amateur Things in PR.

If you're not good enough to achieve media results on your own, I suggest you find an altogether different career path. The Garden State Parkway has immediate openings for toll booth operators, for example. That said, they will fire you if you claim credit for collecting $.35 from a motorist who just handed the change to Anthony in Lane Eight.

Jul 02

Women make lousy mentors

Make-Other-Women-Jealous-of-MeBefore you shoot the messenger, allow me to attribute the headline. It comes from the book 'Mad Women' by Jane Maas, a legendary figure in advertising circles and, at one point in my career, my boss.

In Jane's book, which is subtitled, 'The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond ' she discusses her life as one of the few senior women in advertising at the time.

'Mad Women' confirms what the breakthrough AMC series, 'Mad Men', suggests: hard drinking, raucous workplace sex and treating women as second-class citizens in the workplace were not only de rigueur but far worse than the series would suggest.

That said, Jane believes women have made little, if any, progress since the 1960s. She says every career woman she interviewed from the 1960s and today used the same words and phrases to describe their feelings: “…they can't be a superperformer at work and a supermom and a superwife and a super everything.' She says, despite all of the apparent progress made by women since the feminist movement of the 1960s, “…there is still a war between women who don't stay home and women who do stay home. The guilt is intense on both sides of the conflict.”

Part of the problem, says Maas, is that “women are lousy mentors.” We say we are giving the newbies a helping hand, but our hearts are not in it. The most successful women in our business, the ones who rival men, don't have time to mentor. And besides, there's a little undercurrent of feeling that says: “I've made it on my own; why should you expect to be carried?'' As a result, working moms have no one to turn to for advice.

Wow. Now, that's what I call a controversial statement. I can't speak for the advertising business, but I sure haven't witnessed this phenomenon in public relations (an industry completely dominated by women, BTW). That said, the last time I checked, I was still a man. So, I don't know if women are, in fact, lousy mentors.

I can say that the mentors in my life were men. And, that's because there were few women in positions of power when I was moving up through the ranks.

I can't imagine women not wanting to mentor other women. But, I'd sure like to hear from the distaff side of the equation.

Is Jane right? Or, does her thinking reflect a world that no longer exists. I can tell you this: having worked for Jane, I know that she never pulled her punches or steered us wrong. So, I have no reason to doubt her words. That said, do me a favor: don't shoot the messenger.