Aug 16

Truth trumps double-talk every time

1115502_d7fbbbb8_625x1000I've always admired people and brands that, regardless of whether I agreed with their POVs, stayed consistent in their communications. So, while I'm appalled by their product, I admire The Heart Attack Grill's authenticity. At the same time, though, I see McDonald's as the flip-flopping John Kerry of Corporate America. The Golden Arches will spend millions to honor America's Olympic athletes while continuing to peddle some of the least healthy food known to man.

That's why, when I came across Epic Meal Time, I was simultaneously impressed and taken aback. In case you're not familiar with the YouTube sensation, Epic Meal Time is the creation of Montreal brothers Harley and Darren Morenstein. And, like its American cousin, The Heart Attack Grill, Epic Meal Time celebrates gluttony.

The two chefs prepare such sickening meals as:

– TurBaconEpic (a duck, a chicken, a turkey, a Cornish hen and a quail all coated with bacon!) – The Bakery Burger Combo (cupcakes loaded with bacon and Jack Daniels, designed to resemble giant hamburgers).

I'd share other such culinary masterpieces but, frankly, I'm becoming a little ill.

Here's the point, though: Epic Meal Time is a huge hit. Launched in October 2010, it's already attracted 2.6 million subscribers and over 430 million views from just 100 totally gross videos.

I think Epic's success is due to two simultaneous factors:

– A consumer backlash against government attempts to suggest how they should live their lives (regardless of how well intentioned those effort may be).

– Being authentic, genuine and transparent in their communications.

The French Canadian founders have big plans for their calorie-laden careers. They plan to add new series and non-food related channels (The BarcaLounger Channel? The Sedentary Series? The Diabetes Diaries?).

The brothers are also aware of what they're doing to themselves, and their viewers. As Harley Morenstein said, “We're all getting fat and we're going to die.”

I'll take Harley's honesty over Ronald's spin any day of the week. Oh, and Harley, hold the bacon on my Meat Cereal (“It's like Lucky Charms, only made of chicken flesh.”). Yummy!

Aug 15

Perceptions successfully changed

Today's guest post is by Will Brewster, Account Director at Flagship Consulting, our UK communications partner.

Courtesy-of-Daily-MailIn May I wrote a post for RepMan defending my country and countrymen and women from claims that visitors to Great Britain would find nothing but  litter-strewn streets and hedgerows, loud obnoxious youths on busses, and a population that would happily get on the first plane out of here.

Well, after what has been a spectacularly successful two weeks for Great Britain, on and off the sporting field, it’s hard to not write something about the Olympics, and hard to resist saying ‘I told you so’.

As we Brits glow in the aftermath and wonder at our athletes’ skill and attitude as well as our ability to put on the biggest show on earth, what most interests me is the way the Olympics have changed so many people’s perceptions about London, Britain and the British. Not only have foreigners’ perceptions of us changed, but our perception of ourselves, our capital city, who we are and what we are capable of, has shifted.

We’ve always been a proud nation (hence the outpouring of support for our team and euphoric flag waving), but I sense that we now all feel much more secure about what we’re actually proud of. All of our greatest traits (including a sense of fair play, kindness, humour…among many others) were shown off to the world and the world liked what it saw.

Our perception of what we can achieve in the sporting world has changed, as the medals have rolled in. No longer are we prepared to accept that, say, Americans, Australians, Germans and Chinese are simply better than us by right. We now know that if we work hard enough at something we can beat anybody, at anything. A good lesson for life in general.

What might be the most valuable perception change, that one that might provide the biggest legacy from the Games, is our new found belief in our own capabilities as a nation beyond the sports field. Everywhere you looked this past fortnight there was evidence that we can be world leading if we put our mind to it: from the project management and organisation skills that brought us the Olympic Park and the perfectly mobilised volunteer army, to the outstanding creativity shown in the opening ceremony. We’ve shown great strength in depth of talent and exceptional attention to detail and pride in performance.

Another perception that really did need to change was the one that seemed to pervade and which my original blog sought to challenge: that we are a nation of unfriendly, private, negative and surly people, unsure of our place in the world. This has always been an unfair stereotype. During the Olympics these negative perceptions were spectacularly changed by our superb volunteers who showed the best of British hospitality, common sense and decency. They were changed by the sea of people lining the route of every available event and stadium to cheer on home grown heroes. They were changed by the support given to athletes from all countries in sports we had never even watched before.

Changing perceptions doesn’t happen overnight, but the Olympics provided us Brits with a huge platform to show the world what we’re really about, and we didn’t let ourselves down.

Aug 14

OBESITY PROBLEM GOES SKY HIGH

– United plane delayed because of excessive weight –
– NTSB sees trend; launches wellness campaign for weight-challenged aircraft –

August 14, 2012, Newark Liberty International Airport– A United Airlines flight was delayed for more than 90 minutes Monday because of what an airline spokesman termed “…a serious weight problem.” Paul Beltbuster confirmed that flight 211, scheduled to depart Newark at 7am EDT and arrive in Chicago's O'Hare Airport at 8:10 CDT, was “…simply too heavy to fly.”

Aeroscraft-ml866
The culprit, said the airline spokesman, wasn't the hefty percentage of overweight passengers on-board but, rather, too much gasoline in the fuel tanks.

One Flight 211 passenger quoted Captain Roger OverandOut as saying, “It seems that when the mechanics fueled up our state-of-the-art A320 last night, they got a little carried away and put too much jet fuel in the tanks.”

As a result, OverandOut told the passengers and crew they had to wait some 90 minutes for a truck to be found, driven over to the bulbous plane and remove the fuel. According to F.A.A. sources, this is 35th time this year that an obese aircraft has been grounded. 

MECHANIC BLAMES 'HUNGRY BIRD'
Dominic Steerage, a United mechanic on duty at the time of the incident, disputes Captain OverandOut's claims. “There's no way we put too much fuel in that plane,” said Steerage. “That stuff's liquid gold, and we're under strict orders to give each plane only what it needs to reach its destination and not a drop more.”

Steerage said the Airbus A320 itself is at fault.
“We've all heard stories of these jumbo jets sneaking over to the fuel tanks and grabbing a midnight snack, ” chuckled Steerage. “Why do you think they're called wide-bodies? They're hungry birds that can't help themselves. It's sad.”

When informed of Flight 211's weight-related delay, United's director of customer service, J.R. Oxymoron, said, “That's actually reassuring. We know Virgin Atlantic and Southwest own great passenger experience, so we want to take the opposite tack and deliver the unexpected. In fact, we're about to launch a new campaign with the tagline: 'Chaos you can count on.' That's a brand promise we deliver multiple times in multiple ways each and every day.”

N.T.S.B. GRINDS ITS TEETH
A spokesperson for the National Transportation and Safety Board confirmed that airplane obesity is, in fact, reaching epic proportions. “It's part of the larger problem that's sweeping across America,” said Joan Bottom-Feeder, R.N., executive director of nutrition. “We intend to institute an education campaign and wellness program for every aircraft that's designated a stretch, wide body or jumbo jet. Considering that, when it consumes the proper amount of fuel, the average airplane has a lifespan of 20 years, we may be seeing supersized planes literally falling out of the skies if we don't act quickly."

A spokesperson for the Plus-Sized Aircraft Association (P.S.A.A.) was said to be refueling and unavailable for comment.

Aug 13

There ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks

4496133-businessman-holding-a-cleaning-broom-selective-focusWhenever my monthly edition of PR Week washes up on my desk, I immediately turn to my favorite part: Don Spetner's column on the final page.

Fittingly entitled, 'Last', Spetner's column is chock full of wise, funny insights from his life in PR. The most recent one, headlined: 'Driven people only need apply' really struck a nerve.

Spetner references an industry organization to which we both belong that is populated by the top chief communications officers and agency leaders in America. As he took note of a recent gathering, Spetner was taken by the shared traits and abilities of the CCOs: “Most of them have extraordinary social skills… and the majority is gracious, warm and flexible.” But, he quickly added that, in order to have achieved the level of success they have, the CCOs also possessed “…steely resolve.” Amen, brother. And, ditto for their agency brethren, BTW.

Spetner makes the point that a fast-track career in PR isn't for the faint of heart. It's not a nine-to-five gig. Nor is it a job one can leave behind when one heads home for the night. Quoting the Rapper Mobb Deep, he says, “There ain't no such thing as halfway crooks.”

I tell aspiring job applicants the same thing (although I rarely find myself quoting rap lyrics). PR either is, or isn't, in your DNA. You either love it or hate it. That's not to suggest mediocre types can't find a place to hide. They can. But, the profession's intensity eventually outs them.

Spetner added one other salient point in his column. In recalling an incident from his very first job as a busboy at a Tucson Denny's, Spetner describes his amazement at seeing the franchise owner bend down and pick up a tissue paper on the floor (the owner picking up tissue?!?!).

I experienced the exact same incident at one of my first PR gigs. I worked at Geltzer & Company, a midsized agency.  Just before a big, new business pitch, I accompanied Howard Geltzer into the men's room. I watched as he not only took care of business, but picked up errant paper towels and toilet paper littering the floor. Noticing my astonished look, Howard said, “Steve, it ALL matters. It matters to the client, the prospect and the employee. And, it should matter to you too."

As Spetner says, the pursuit of excellence is in the DNA of the very best professionals in PR. I would add that, those of us who also happen to be entrepreneurs, take Spetner's POV to an even higher level since the business is, in fact, our baby (I routinely straighten picture frames, wipe up spills on conference room tables, etc.).

So here's a piece of advice to every novice who one day aspires to reach the upper echelons of PR: either engage completely or get out. There are no halfway crooks (or halfway PR success stories).

Aug 10

Having a Ruff Time Paying Attention at Work?

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Shira Palka.

AwA2kFICQAIINbbbbbbb4A.jpg largeMany call themselves animal lovers, claiming that “a dog is man’s best friend,” so would it be that crazy to imagine your best friend sitting beside you at work? While Peppercom acquired its name after a beloved dog, there are no puppies or kittens running around the office just yet. CNN recently wrote about the phenomenon of having pets in the office as a way to reduce stress on employees, and perhaps even attract clients to a unique and relaxing work environment.

The International Journal of Workplace Health Management recently published a study which revealed that employees who did not have dogs at work indicated higher stress levels and lower satisfaction rates, compared to employees who brought their dogs to work. Perhaps having dogs in the office can build company morale and promote friendships, like the live feed of Shiba Inu puppies did among the Peppercom interns. Having common likes and interests with the people you work can ultimately enhance the quality and efficiency of the tasks being done.

Allowing dogs in the office may have its upsides, but the downsides are equally inevitable. If you are sitting next to the guy who keeps sneezing from your pet’s soft, shedding fur, you may have a problem. Allergies are probably the number one reason for keeping them out. If you forgot to train your dog as a puppy and he accidentally bites another employee, you can both be sniffing up a lawsuit.

A dog can inappropriately bark during a meeting, lick the furniture in your cubicle, even eat your lunch when you look away, but perhaps companies are starting to view it as more of a helpful creature than useless monster, if the right rules are in place. Google’s dog policy, for example, requires that owners who bring their dogs to the office must have their pets properly licensed, vaccinated and supervised. If the dog has fleas, you’re both out of luck. Just like humans follow rules of common courtesy and respect, these dogs would have to do the same.

Perhaps I barked up the wrong tree with this post, as I may be responsible for the 20 dogs that appear in Peppercom’s kitchen tomorrow morning, but this is more of a “what if” type of situation which can either be utterly disastrous or greatly advantageous. Some people may even approach the topic as a joke, yet the companies who are proof of such a successful scenario can be examples for expanding the nature and atmosphere of many work forces. I’m curious to hear what professionals and thought leaders in the industry would make of having dogs in their offices: could it work or would it be destined to fail?

Aug 09

Going from good to great: a client primer

Good-clientThe PR blogosphere is positively littered with best practices and how-to columns for agency leaders. But there are precious few that address best practices for clients.

One of our newest clients, Electronic Ink, just published an insightful blog on the subject entitled, 'Are you a good client?'.

Author Stephen Megargee pinpoints the critical role a client plays in any agency relationship. He believes those clients who are the most actively, constructively and openly engaged in their agency partnership will achieve the greatest results. I agree, and believe the word ‘constructively’ is at the heart of the matter.

I've run into clients over the years who've deconstructed relationships by:

– Rejecting any, and all, strategic thinking because they wanted a publicity mill and not a partner.
– Bullying and belittling account teams with the use of numerous F-Bombs, thinly-veiled threats, or a combination thereof.
– Repeatedly 'losing' invoices and making us wait 120 days or longer for payment.
– Taking credit for our successes and blaming us for their shortcomings (BTW, clients SHOULD take credit for an agency's success. It's our job to make them shine in the eyes of their management).
– Firing us abruptly and with no warning whatsoever.

There are many good clients who can become great clients if they follow Megargee's advice. The best clients trust, reward and empower their agency while simultaneously pushing them to be ever more strategic and creative.

As they should because, as Megargee says, “If you (the client) are passive, you probably won't get the gift (a great experience) that you are wishing for. And what a drag that is, considering that you are paying for it (the agency's thinking).”

So, here's a follow-up question for clients to ask themselves: Where would you fit on the Electronic Ink list? Are you:

– Going from good to great.
– Already there.
– In the same sinkhole as the dysfunctional types described above?

Aug 08

A back to the future breakthrough

MailmanI must receive about 50 e-newsletters a week. And, with rare exception, I delete each and every one after quickly scanning the headlines.

But, just about every month I also receive an old fashioned, print newsletter in the mail from The Anne Klein & Communications Group, a 30-year-old South Jersey PR firm. And, guess what? I devour each and every word of it.

I'm sure some e-newsletters feature more cutting-edge topics, trends and suggestions, but I'm much more comfortable with Klein's conventional content. There's really nothing revolutionary about the stories. They typically include:

– Client testimonials
– Staff achievements
– Award-winning programs
– Charitable work of employees
– A mega client media hit or two

Pretty mundane stuff, right? Wrong. Because of its look, feel and family-friendly content, the Klein newsletter conveys a powerful, if subliminal, message: this is a great firm on which clients, employees and the local community can depend. If they were Chicago-based, I'd refer to Anne Klein as Midwest Nice.

There's a huge lesson to be learned from the newsletter. Somehow, some way, Anne Klein has broken through my personal clutter and connected with me. That's priceless.

Nowadays, clients pay millions of dollars to ad agencies, interactive shops and PR firms to figure out the best ways to break through the clutter and connect with target audiences. By sticking to an old school communications channel and regular, dependable content, Klein has not only made a connection with this busy executive, but inspired me to blog about the experience. How's that for a measurable result?

So, the next time you and your team are discussing the latest, greatest social media sensation, pause for just a second and ask this question: how would my AUDIENCE like to engage in the conversation?

Like Anne Klein, you just might end up creating a back to the future breakthrough (and having an audience member rave about it).

Aug 07

A very special kind of incompetence

After enjoying a sublime weekend's worth of alpine and rock climbing in northern Maine, my son, Chris, his friend, Mark, and this blogger hopped in our rental car to drive south from Bar Harbor to Portland International Airport. Our story begins en route to PIA (the airport, not Zadora).

Untied11TALE OF WOE: We were scheduled to fly United #4910 from PIA (the airport, not Zadora) to EWR (that's Newark Liberty International Airport for those of you not in the know). It's a brief 45 minute hop that covers the 500 or so miles separating the two hubs.

About 30 minutes into the drive, United sent a trip alert, notifying me of a 50-minute delay. Uh-oh, I thought. Here we go again. I informed my companions who, not having fallen victim to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune that awaits any United passenger, merely shrugged. “No biggie,” they said. I knew otherwise.

Sure enough, another trip alert soon followed. It provided a new arrival time of 11pm. Then, a third popped onto my BB's screen, informing me the flight was back on schedule but, get this, the arrival time was still 50 minutes late! That told me the in-house United gremlins were once again at play.

We finally arrived at PIA (the airport, not Zadora) and dropped off our rental car. That's when we heard another driver let loose with a loud expletive. We glanced at him, followed his eyes to the departure screen and, sure as rain, United flight 4910 from PIA (the airport, not Zadora) to EWR had been canceled.

We hustled over to the gate, only to spy a line longer than the San Andreas Fault. I knew we were goners. I told the guys to follow me back to Budget, where we rented another car and drove 12 hours through pouring rain, fender benders and bumper-to-bumper traffic. We arrived home at 2:30am.

EPILOGUE: I awoke Monday morning groggy and grumpy, but whole. And, then, the United gremlins went back to work (I wonder whether they're outsourced gremlins toiling away in a Mumbai bunker or home grown terrorists based in some undisclosed location?). Either way, United sent me a trip alert telling me good, old flight 4910 from PIA (ok, I won't say it) to EWR was on-time! What the heck? United's crack team of reservation agents must have thought we'd camped out overnight at PIA. (Nope. I won't say it.) This, despite the fact that my assistant attempted to cancel the reservation online but, true to United's anything but friendly skies, was denied access.

Here's the kicker: late yesterday afternoon, United sent me ANOTHER trip alert to inform me that poor #4910 was once again delayed.

As my assistant, Virginia Dandridge Stevenson, observed: “This takes a very special type of incompetence.”

So, here's my new suggested tagline for United: 'Yes, it can get worse.'

Aug 06

Life in the slow lane

IMG_0334Life in the fast lane really starting to gnaw away at you? Well, I suggest a  unique remedy: climbing.

Take a look at how this blogger, Repman, Jr. and Rep Jr.’s friend Mark “The Renaissance Man” Romei spent the past three days: (Katahdin – Delivers a punch!). Some people like lounging on a beach. Others chill out by sightseeing. For me, nothing re-charges the batteries better than intense rock and mountain climbing.

While rock, ice and mountain climbing may sound daunting (if not downright dangerous), it's quite the opposite. And, Art Mooney and Matt Ritter (www.mooneymountainguides.com), our superb guides, are equally adept at teaching the novice as well as honing the skills of the expert.

So, if you're like me, and find yourself unable to stop thinking about work no matter how many glasses of sauvignon blanc consumed, I highly recommend you check out climbing. It's the purest form of a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual high I've yet discovered. Best of all, I guarantee you'll come back 100 percent recharged and ready to deal with the workaday realities of life in the fast lane.

Note: Click here for Art's blog post that covers our Bar Harbor climbs.

Aug 03

An Uncorporate Image

Guest post by Kendyl Wright – Fellow Peppercommer and "Uncorporate" Senior Account Executive

Kickball

When I moved to NYC in 2006, I had big dreams and expectations of PR greatness. I took a job immediately with one of the world’s biggest PR firm and set out to succeed in the corporate world. Since this blog is about reputations, I will say that this firm had one of the best “corporate” reputations in the public relations industry.

The CEO was responsible for giving Coca-Cola the infamous classic tagline. I should have been in PR heaven. But as my resume will quickly tell you, I was not. I left after six months and moved to a midsize, privately owned firm. I was much happier and felt that this firm fit my work style so much better. But as young New Yorkers often do, I was lured back to a big firm almost 3 years later by the client list, the promise of more money and the appeal of running some of PR’s biggest launch events. About 2 weeks in, it clicked. I am UNCORPORATE. 

It would take me 2 more years, another job and a 5 month sabbatical to land at Peppercom. When my friend Rebecca asked to submit my resume, I hesitated. “I don’t want to work at a PR firm. I hate everything about them,” I told her time and time again. After a little convincing on her part, (and a lot on my parents’ part…where I had been “temporarily” crashing during my time off) I decided to take a job at Peppercom. 

We talk about image crises a lot in the PR world, but we rarely talk about the culture image of our own firms. Based on my experiences, and those of various friends and colleagues within the industry, corporate life inside the walls of most PR firms is less than encouraging.

In an industry centered around communication and creativity, there’s little brainstorming, less collaboration and not a whole lot of fun. I have friends that work at agencies big & small all over the country and they have countless horror stories of account management, career support and day-to-day lifestyle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m just over PR. There’s nothing I like about going to work.” It makes me sad that our industry is so corporate and cold. Why is it that we consistently hear about the creative and inspiring cultures at ad agencies, but PR environments are structured more like banks and law firms?  

Two days after I started at Peppercom, the agency hosted our annual “Uncorporate Challenge,” a fun run followed by a happy hour. The slogan of this challenge is “Peppercom – Keeping it Uncorporate since 1995.” Over the next few weeks, those knots in my stomach about working for another PR firm started to subside – I knew I had found a home. And while the out of work activities we have here are definitely fun, it’s my day to day uncorporate experience that has helped me embrace PR again.

Over the past year, I have learned that just because you have the big client names doesn’t mean you have the best job. I’ve learned that working at a place that values the individual and encourages them to flourish as they are is a wonderful and amazing thing. I’ve learned what it means to have a team, in every sense of the word. What it’s like to collaborate and trust those team members and be proud of the work you accomplished together. There’s very little individual blame at Peppercom, and for an industry that seems to always pass the buck, that’s pretty incredible.

I’ve learned that there are managers who listen to you and encourage growth in the areas you are passionate about. I’ve learned that it is possible for the most senior people at a company to know your name and actually care about what happens to you as an individual. But most of all, I’ve learned what it’s like to love coming to work each day. I do better work, I’m a better person and most of all, I don’t miss “corporate” life at all.