Nov 13

Reading the client

Gunks Time was rapidly running out on the second day of an amazing weekend's worth of rock climbing in The Gunks, which features perhaps the best routes east of the Mississippi River. (That'e me in the middle of our intrepid group, pictured left.)

I was struggling mightily up a steep crack in a near vertical wall when I heard my guide, Art Mooney, yell from below, "Steve, let's lower you off this one and have you try the other route." We did just that and, much to my delight, I successfully topped out on the slightly easier climb. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Art had read his client (me) like a book. He knew I was gassed as he likes to say. But, Art also knew his client wanted to cap off his weekend with a successful summit. So, he made it happen.

The best PR strategists do the same thing with their clients. They know how to anticipate a client's needs, suggest winning strategies and ensure a long-term relationship. But, as we all know, that's much easier said than done.

Some clients say one thing, but mean another.

One long-gone client of ours told us he wanted a strategic partner when he hired us. Then, after we'd made three or four suggestions that he ignored, the client fired back a terse note to our account lead saying, "I don't want to rock the boat with anything out-the-box. Keep getting basic results in the trade pubs and stop bothering me with ideas I'm not going to implement."

So, we did what we were told.

Eventually, the client was fired. And, naturally, as soon as his replacement was hired, she called our account lead and asked why we hadn't been doing more strategic work. Ugh.
We'd read the client correctly, but later paid a price for his reluctance to do anything strategic.

Happily, most clients are looking for someone who, like Art Mooney, can anticipate their macro wants and needs and, most importantly, make them look good to their senior management. 

Aside from the occasional don't rock the boat guy, most clients love it when you ask, "Have you thought of this?' or 'Why don't we try that?"

That's what Art Mooney does with me, and that's what we try to do with our clients. It may seem obvious, but it's what separates the good from the great in climbing, PR and life.

Nov 12

The Youth Vote is Here to Stay Young

Today's guest post is by Chris Piedmont, a Communications major at the College of Charleston, class of'14.

YouthVotingYoung America has spoken and we want four more years of President Barack Obama.

On October 10, I made an appeal to my fellow young Americans between the ages of 18-29 to turn off Jersey Shore for a few hours and wake up. Wake up and take control of our future. Too long had we let other generations think that we were an apathetic generation and that we’d rather sit at home watching reruns of Gossip Girl than to go to the polls. To these critics and pundits, 2008 was a fluke and, surely, we wouldn’t show up in the same large numbers again in 2012. There was no history to be made this time; no message of change; no message of hope.

Well, these pundits were right. We didn’t show up in the same numbers as ’08. This time, we brought more of our friends, younger siblings, and those disenchanted after the magic of ’08 wore off and we increased our percentage of the electorate from 18% to 19%. Our share of the electorate was greater than that of one of the most reliable voting blocks, voters over the age of 65 who only made up 17%.

In the days leading up to election my peers, finally, tuned in. We watched the debates. Followed the final weeks of the campaigns. Compared and contrasted candidates views. We made our decisions. This election was truly too important to sit out.

Early exit polls have shown that about half of those eligible to vote in our demographic went to the polls last Tuesday. From my vantage point, this sounds fairly accurate. Of my friends, about half of us voted and the other half didn’t because they either felt as though their vote didn’t matter because we weren’t in a swing state or they didn’t like either of the candidates. Clearly, there is more work to be done to engage young voters but I am happy to say that progress has been made.

On November 6th, we woke up, marched to the polls, made our voices heard, and silenced our critics. The youth vote is here to stay; let the politicians woo away.

Nov 09

I’d suggest InfallibilityGuy

Pope111Proving once again that first-mover status isn't as important as getting it right, the Vatican recently announced that Pope Benedict XVI will begin tweeting before the end of the year. Apparently, His Holiness, who neither blogs nor participates in any online activity whatsoever, is leapfrogging most of his competitors by going directly to Twitter. That said, he's not a first-mover in the space. Fast Company reports The Archbishop of Canterbury has been tweeting for some time now.

The Church of England's leader may have been first, but something tells me a higher power will help the Pope attract more followers in a shorter period of time. Why? Because, the Pope has SO much more material with which to work. Talk about a plethora of topics (and crises).

As Fast Company notes, the only remaining mystery is what the Pope's twitter handle will be. Here are a few of my thoughts:

– CatholicOne
– PontiffInChief
– UrPope

That said, we strategic public relations types always counsel clients to find the marketplace white space when they create a positioning, branding or name. So, since there's one trait that no other major religious leader can lay claim to, I'd suggest Pope Benedict XVI opt for InfallibilityGuy. It immediately communicates what makes him, shall we say, rise above the others?

So, how about you? What would you suggest the pope's Twitter handle be? I'd be willing to send the reader who submits the most creative suggestion a signed, framed photo of the young Repman (decked out in altar boy regalia circa 1968). Talk about a Church relic!

And tip of the hat to Chris "Repman" Jr., Cody for uncovering the lead.

Nov 08

If I were a Republican

GopIt was fascinating to watch all of the post-election finger-pointing and self-denial in Republican camps yesterday. I found myself particularly mesmerized by the Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity shows on Fox & Friends.

The former grilled a number of pollsters. Billy (as his sidekick, Dennis Miller, affectionately calls O’Reilly) kept asking the numbers-cruncher the exact same question, “Why do we (read: Republicans) do so well with married women and so poorly with single ones?” Each expert, in turn, responded in more or less the same way. Each made the case that Republicans had done everything possible to send single women the wrong signals (read: Republicans are not interested in a single woman’s wants and needs). O’Reilly would have none of it. He even called one statistician delusional.

Hannity took a different tack when he interviewed Bob Woodward on his program. Hannity was convinced the liberal media had won the election for Obama. Woodward immediately interrupted Hannity, saying his newspaper, The Washington Post, had actually analyzed the coverage and found it to be fair and balanced (as Fox likes to say about its own reportage). In fact, he cited the savaging of Obama by any, and all, media in the aftermath of his dismal first debate as proof positive of balanced coverage. Like his cohort, though, Hannity would have none of it. In fact, he went on to accuse the liberal media of a vast conspiracy that “covered-up and completely overlooked” the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

For the record, I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. I choose, instead, to vote for the candidate. Indeed, my personal votes on election day were evenly divided.

If I were a Republican, though, I’d stop talking and start listening.

Indeed, I’d stop preaching and proselytizing altogether. Instead, I’d literally put myself in the shoes of the voting bases I need to attract in 2016.

I’d take the time to study Emily Yellin’s book, ‘Your call is (not that) important to us’ and start experiencing the Republican Party brand from the outside in (as voters do). I’d sit alongside a single woman as she experiences the messaging and platforms of both parties. I’d accompany a Latino family as they listen to stump speeches from both sides and I’d be all ears as college students discuss political priorities.

The best brands are those who take the time to listen to their customers, walk in their shoes and experience the brand from the outside in. If the Republicans start doing the same, you might, just might, see less ranting and more empathy the next time around.

Nov 07

An inconvenient truth

Enemy.....Aside from a piece in The Daily Dog, I haven't seen much coverage of a recent Adobe/ Edelman Berland jobs survey that asked 1,000 consumers and marketing executives to name the most and least respected professions in our country.

As one would expect, teachers, scientists and engineers topped the list. But, get this, instead of bankers, lawyers and insurance salesmen (my personal bete
noire) bringing up the rear, PR executives finished dead last (trailing even politicians!).

My friends, we toil for the least admired profession in America. Even Heidi Fleiss, Anthony Weiner and Honey Boo Boo seem to engender more positive feelings than we PR pros.

As JFK said in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs disaster, “Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.” As a result, I don't think we'll see many industry experts or pundits weigh-in with witty, insightful reasons as to why we're thought of less highly than a Yankees fan at a Red Sox game.

So, I thought I'd fill the gap.

Here are my top five reasons why PR is America's least respected job:

1.) Heidi Montag-Pratt (of the pseudo-reality TV show, 'The Hills') and all of her bubble-headed, gum-chewing, party-planning nitwit peers in dumbed-down TV and movie plots have convinced Americans we're a bunch of dumb, spoiled brats.

2.) Our top trade publications read like 'The Lives of the Saints.' Were a space alien to visit planet earth and rely solely on PR media to judge our profession, the E.T. in question would assume PR people are singlehandedly ending poverty, hunger and war while simultaneously spending every waking moment doing good for the rest of mankind.

3.) Our leading trade associations spend more time handing out lifetime achievement awards than in advocating on the industry's behalf.

4.) We're more obsessed with beating advertising, and winning the client's total marketing spend than in explaining WHY PR is the most transparent, credible and trusted communications medium (the Adobe survey results notwithstanding, of course).

5). Our colleges and universities continue to stock their classrooms with young, white females who aspire to, yes Virginia, become party planners. So, in the immortal words of Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us.

For all of the hoopla and feel-good stories being pumped out by our trade media, the amazing array of strategic work we do is either being misunderstood or ignored by the next generation. It's an inconvenient truth that, for whatever reason, we're simply sweeping under the rug. Instead, we should be brainstorming ways to stem the tide and change America's misperceptions of PR.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that, unless we act now, will one day result in our actually becoming an industry dominated by dim-witted, party-planning nitwits such as Samantha Jones, Jonathan Cheban and Kelly Cutrone.

I can see it now. “Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause please for the recipient of the 2040 PRSA Lifetime Achievement Award, Ms. Heidi Montag-Platt!”

Nov 06

No Imagination Left Behind

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.

When you hear the name 'Dolly Parton' what do you think?

Country music?  Big hair?  Big boobs?

Dolly-ReadingNot in our house. The mention of Dolly’s name brings unbridled happiness and joy, at least it does from my three-year-old daughter. Why? Because it means another book has arrived in the mail from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Every month, from birth through to the age of five, children registered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library receive an age-appropriate book in the mail. All this is done at no cost to the child’s family. For children in low-income families, the library of books they build up by the age of five could potentially be the only new books they own.

Dolly launched her Imagination Library in East Tennessee in 1996. As the website says: “Dolly's vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month.” While this is a genuinely philanthropic program that has now grown to 1600 communities in the US, Canada and the UK, it could serve as a case study for modern celebrity PR managers. For example:

    – Lance Armstrong – Perhaps Lance could use all those millions of endorsement dollars to help kids buy bicycles and help combat childhood obesity?
    – Chris Brown – Nothing is going to erase the image of Rihanna’s battered face, but donating money to a domestic violence organization might help him sleep a little better at night.
    – Paris Hilton – What better way for the hotel heiress to transform her TMZ-led reputation into a lasting legacy than by establishing a network of hostels for the homeless?

I jest, of course. But one thing is for sure, for my daughter, Dolly Parton’s name will only ever mean one thing: excitement at collecting the mail, asking if Dolly has sent her a book, seeing her name on the address label, ripping off the cellophane wrapping, and opening up the next chapter of her growing imagination. It’s a wonder to behold.

I can’t sign off this blog without directing readers to the donation page of the Imagination Library. I know there are many people struggling right now, especially in the New York/New Jersey area, but if you want to bring a sense of wonder to a child you will never meet, please consider donating, or support the program by making a purchase from their on-line store.

Happy reading.

Nov 05

A great businessman does not a good POTUS make

First, I'd like to send a special thanks to those of you who tried to check-in with me during my five full days without power (likewise former Congressdog, Mick Cody, has asked me to pass along an extra loud bark-out to Bueller Cohen for his kind note).

In particular, I'd like to thank Edward Aloysius Moed, Matt Purdue, Nanci Tudish, Stafford Davis and Brian McGee for their VMs and text messages.

I'd also like to salute my 100 or so peers at Peppercomm who closed ranks and rallied to a degree that would have impressed even the fabled Battered Bastards of Bastogne. Note to my Millennial readers: you'll need to Google that one to appreciate the reference.

Last, and certainly not least, a HUGE thank you to my ever-trusty assistant, Dandy Stevenson, who literally served as my lifeline to the outside world during the blackout. Talk about a lifesaver. Wow.

And now, today's post:

If one were to believe the polls, fully 47 percent of registered voters believe Mitt Romney's past success as a businessman makes him better qualified to serve as our next president of the United States.

Nfexpe3But, I'd be willing to wager a Bain Capital branded t-shirt that most of the 47 percenters haven't taken the time to study Presidential history to see if their belief holds true over our country's 236-year history. I have, and it doesn't.

Here are just a few examples of superb business executives who failed miserably after being elected President:
    - Herbert Hoover was a multimillionaire who presided over the nation's slide into The Great Depression.
    - Jimmy Carter grew rich as a Plains, Georgia, peanut farmer before being tossed out of office after four lamentable years.
    - George W. Bush inherited his wealth, but certainly added to the coffers as an owner of the Texas Rangers. It's my opinion that W will rank alongside Harding, Grant and Buchanan as four of our worst presidents.
    - Warren G. Harding built a newspaper empire that he sold in 1923 for half a million dollars (that's the equivalent of $6 million today). 

Now, let's look at the flip side. Here are a few examples of god-awful businessmen who are consistently ranked among our greatest presidents:
    - Harry S Truman's haberdashery tanked in 1922, leaving 'Give 'em hell' Harry destitute at the rather advanced age of 40.
    - In addition to being a peripatetic lawyer and judge, Abraham Lincoln was the co-owner of a general store in New Salem, Illinois, that went belly-up and left our greatest President (my opinion) with debts that took years to pay off.
    - Thomas Jefferson (as well as just about every one of our early presidents save Washington) died penniless and with huge, unpaid debts.

And then, as is the case with just about any subject, there are the exceptions:
    - U.S. Grant was equally inept at business and politics. But, oy, such a general he was!
    - Teddy Roosevelt grew up 'already on third base' as some have said of Romney, yet is consistently ranked among our greatest presidents.  Ditto for his second cousin, Franklin. And then there's the Horatio Alger 'what if' case of James A. Garfield who, had he not been assassinated a few months after taking office, may very have become one of our greatest presidents ever (note: I urge you to read, 'The Destiny of the Republic').

The greatest Presidents are those who displayed vision, leadership, courage, compassion, conviction and, critically, a willingness to compromise to do what was best for the country at the time. Those are the qualities we should factor into our voting decision tomorrow (and not whether Bain Capital delivered a 20 or 25 percent annual profit during Mitt's stewardship as CEO.