Jan 31

Oh Say Can You Sing

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Dandy Stevenson.

Ferris_bueller_paradeSo Beyonce lip-synched the National Anthem at Obama’s inauguration. What’s the big deal? She was there in person. It was her voice. It sounded wonderful and she WAS performing. 

Who knows, maybe Obama did the same thing when he gave his speech.  It’s not like he was speaking off the cuff. Not only was every word agonized over before it made it into part of one of the many precious sentences in the speech, but also every pause, every inflection was carefully crafted and well-practiced. 

In a sense he WAS lip-synching.  Sure he could have burped or blinked at the wrong time, but you can bet he was rehearsed within an inch of his life.  Hell, he was even reading it. It’s not a debate. It’s a show: intricately scripted, blocked, staged, practiced, costumed, lit and presented in all its fabricated glory— just like every other speech nowadays.  So Beyonce did just play along… personally, I don’t think her part of the festivities was any less genuine than Barack’s.

Jan 30

Imagine an agency without clients

Client listtImagine an agency without clients. Now, imagine that same firm has just been named Ad Age's 2013 Agency of the Year. Seems like a major disconnect, no?

Not if you're a white hot ad agency with the uber cool name, 72andSunny.

John Boiler, the firm's CEO, says he forbids the use of the word client at his firm. Instead, he says, "…their names are Madeleen, Don, Enrico and Paulo, to name a few."

Boiler's employees refer to clients as friends, partners or associates, and always by their first names. He believes it humanizes a relationship that, even in the best of times, can be touch-and-go. He also believes it limits the number of times agency personnel can blame 'the client' for something that goes wrong. “Telling me a client is unhappy is not very useful if it's unclear from whom the feedback in coming,” he added.

To which I add, amen. I've always referred to our best clients by their first names. There's Monica from Whirlpool, Katie from Ernst & Young and Claire from Electronic Ink, for example. Sure, they happen to pay our bills. But, they're also fully engaged in working alongside us as a team to solve problems and raise the bar. And, as Boiler says, they're our friends (and, vice versa).

I like the idea of having friends who partner with us to solve problems.

That said, we've run into a few individuals over the years who weren't friends, partners or associates. They were power brokers who liked to remind us we were beholden to them. They were tactical in their thinking and liked to keep us at an arm's distance. They were also the first to point the finger at us when things didn't happen as planned. To mangle a military expression, they weren't the types with whom you'd want to share a foxhole.

Boiler believes banning the C word helps foster a stronger relationship between client and agency while promoting a healthy workplace. “By avoiding the client label, and thus avoiding bitching about those who we come into the office every day to work with, we are promoting a culture of respect, understanding and open-mindedness.”

I've never met John Boiler, but I sure like the way he thinks. And, I must say I, too, aspire to one day be a top agency with no clients. Happily, with friends like Monica, Katie and Claire, to name just a few, we're well on our way.

Jan 29

Meeting by Kangooing Around

Nilofer Merchant is a Stanford lecturer, director of a NASDAQ-traded company and a huge practitioner of holding meetings as she power walks outside the office. Merchant says her productivity and wellness have both improved by bringing her direct reports along on power walks to discuss any number of business-related topics.

I've been doing the same thing for years, albeit through different means. Like Merchant, I deplore the countless, chair-bound meetings that permeate American business & industry. And, like Merchant, I believe some of my most creative thoughts arise when my mind is uncluttered by the confines of the workplace and fully engaged in vigorous exercise.

IMG_1233So, I accompany my Peppercomm cohorts as we partake in everything from:

– Kickball (we're a two-time play-off contender, courtesy of Coach Timmy Mambort)
– The UnCorporate Challenge Race (created in protest to the horrific J.P. Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge Race and highlighted by the Cody-Kolek blood match
– Three-times-a-day power walks to, and from, one client's HQ's on the other side of town (hey, they need a lot of hand holding).

While we may not discuss business when our heart rates are skyrocketing north of 155 beats per minute, our group DOES catch-up on important stuff immediately afterwards (often fueled by a pitcher or two of Stella Artois).

Within the friendly confines of Peppercomm, I also interact daily with my podmates in a way I believe would put a smile on Merchant's face. My podmates include: Kendyl, K.T., Brenna and Colin 'Bigfoot' Reynolds (pictured). And, their pod is situated directly outside my office.

So, unlike just about every other corporate executive I can think of, I treat my podmates as peers. In fact, we refer to the space as OUR pod. And, I make it my business to wade into its midst each, and every, day, to find out what's new with my mates. I've found that my pod has become a great, early warning detector of all things good, bad and ugly at my firm. And, guess what, none of our conversations would qualify as regularly scheduled meetings.

We may not bench press 400 pounds or run sprints up and down the hallway, but I learn as much from my podmates as Merchant does from her power-walking peers.

So, do yourself a favor. The next time you, and the team, have a meeting to discuss IBM's global want and needs, take it outside. Power walk to the nearest park and do a few laps. I guarantee you'll be more creative, come up with a few, new ideas and maybe, just maybe, shed a few inches along the way.

(Oh, and if you really want breakthrough results, treat them to a Kangoo class with Mario Godiva. You, and they, will never be the same.)

And a tip o' Repman's cap to Julie Farin for suggesting this post.

Jan 28

They called me ‘The Kid’

The kiddd A just released Accountemps survey of 420 workers showed that nearly one-third said the greatest challenge when starting a new job was getting to know a new boss, co-workers and fitting into the culture. Learning new processes and procedures was also a big obstacle.

Even at my advanced age, I can relate to the abject fear of starting a new job and wondering how my boss and peers would take to me (and vice versa).

But, I was different from my peers. I was already a battle-tested veteran thanks to the tremendous competitive advantage my Northeastern University Co-Op experiences had provided. By the time I graduated, I'd not only worked in the newsrooms of The New York Times, WGCH Radio in Greenwich and CBS Newsradio in Boston, I'd also rubbed elbows with of some of journalism's best and brightest (and meanest and nastiest).

So, when I interviewed at Hill & Knowlton as a newly-minted college grad, my real-world experience ran rings around my competitors from Yale, Harvard and Princeton (FYI, the H&K of those days was as white-shoed as a firm could possibly be. Biff's and Buffy's were absolutely everywhere).

And, trust me, I needed every bit of the N.U. Co-Op experience I'd absorbed up until then. Because, at the time I was hired (note: William Howard Taft had just been elected president), I was 12 years younger than the other account executives in my group! So, I not only had to score placements for such clients as Uniroyal and The American Trucking Association, I had to deal with very intense, frat house/Mad Men-type hazing from my older cohorts.

The men AND women teased me mercilessly. The men called me Gerber. The female executives called me The Kid. But, while others may have wilted under the pressure of what would undoubtedly qualify as a hostile workplace today, I thrived. Why? Because I'd already been yelled at, patronized and ignored by world weary, deadline-driven journalists.

And, that's the point of today's blog. Most of the interns we hire (and those that I see at other organizations) tend to run in packs. They I.M. one another all day long, chill together after work and share dating and helicopter parent stories throughout the day. What they do very, very little of, however, is networking with, and building bonds, with their workplace elders.

Which is why so many young people fear the prospects of fitting into a new workplace when they finally enter the real job market. Sure, they can rock social media. Sure, they know all about the hottest YouTube video. But, when it comes to dealing with older, more experienced workers on a peer-to-peer level, I'd say most are completely lost at sea.

And, that's why colleges and universities (as well as we employers) need to better prepare students for the cultural/workplace dynamics they'll be encountering. Most interns are hired, assigned accounts and then left to fend for themselves. They learn the ropes in media relations, press release writing and pleasing the client. But, what employer takes the time to explain internal politicking, reporting parameters, professional conduct, personal brand building and networking? Precious few.

The kid (that's me) was ready for the slings and arrows of yesteryear's workplace. But, Northeastern students aside, I've seen precious few Millennials who possess the natural skills necessary to leverage their youthful enthusiasm, overcome their fear of the workplace and use both as an advantage to foster strong relationships with their busy, distracted elders during an oh-so-brief, 90-day internship.

I invite my Millennial readers to weigh in, but doubt many will. I've found that most are either afraid to interact with 'someone of my stature' or simply unsure what is, and isn't, appropriate to post on a business blog. Give them an iPhone and a BFF to text, though, and stand back.

We clearly need to build a better bridge between those two worlds.

Jan 25

Why Create Public Relations Metrics Standards Without PR?

Today's guest post is by Peppercomm co-founder and managing partner, Ed Moed.

ComparingThe Institute of Public Relations is doing its best to move our industry to the next level by finally creating industry wide measurement standards.

I applaud this effort. For far too long the public relations world was never taken seriously by anyone controlling a real P&L. That’s because money flowed out the door for big and small campaigns, yet most professionals had no viable way to truly show whether that money was well spent. By creating some semblance of standards, at least there will be a basic, high level playbook for anyone in the industry to follow to better track and apply metrics to their programs. According to this recent IPR blog post, it is clear that variables like audience reach for traditional print media, value of social media and advocacy in survey research will now have a greater standard by which all can apply metrics.

Here’s the challenge I see (however). The discipline known as public relations has undergone a heck of a lot of change in just the last few years. For the last 60-70 years, media relations (earned media) and other third party endorsement approaches always fell directly under the PR banner. But now, and into the future, what constitutes public relations versus digital communications versus content development versus even advertising is really up for grabs.

I’ll take a bold step now. My belief is that in five years, public relations may not even be a phrase that we use or associate with anymore. No, based on the absolute paradigm shift we are all experiencing, agencies will be remolded as developers of content and facilitators of engagement (in fact, we’re actually seeing this transformation right now). And, whether that content is earned, owned or bought makes no difference… as long as it helps brands engage better with their key audiences. That means agencies will be discipline and channel agnostic, integrated and completely not about PR or advertising or direct marketing. That’s because corporate communications and marketing folks won’t care. Instead, they will just want content and engagement solutions.

I digressed.

Let’s come back to my original question in this post. How does one create Public Relations industry standards when what will need to be measured undoubtedly will cut across so many more disciplines and channels than earned media, social media and other traditional PR approaches? That’s the challenge I see with any standards that are now being created to SOLEY measure public relations. While again, it is a novel gesture, it really doesn’t make sense.

Instead, what is truly needed are metrics that can allow communicators (and marketers) to better understand how all their methods of engagement actually work to create real results or (my favorite acronym) ROI. The plain fact is that even now any true research professional would tell us that no discipline can be accurately measured in a vacuum. That’s because a media relations campaign (as an example) might be generating great publicity, but when one assesses how a company truly improved its image, there are always many other factors that had direct or or indirect impact to that help that effort (including so many other forms of marketing, customer service, etc.).

It isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But, my suggestion to IPR would be to partner with the 4As and those associations which represent other key communications/marketing disciplines. Together, they can attempt to create the first holistic measurement standard that matters and is sustainable into the future.  Short of that, I  believe those in the PR world will continue to search for some type of holy grail… even after a new industry wide public relations standard is launched.

Jan 24

Order in the courtship: In (semi) defense of the man brand

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Laura Bedrossian.

Caveman-and-computer-520x345The new date is “hanging out,” according to a recent article in The New York Times on why courtship is dying (or is already dead, depending on who you talk to.) Being an unattached, millennial female living in New York City myself, Alex Williams’ “The End of Courtship” certainly struck a chord with me—though perhaps not the one intended.

Technology is named in this particular blame game for how the modern male is able to hide behind vague and non-committal electronic messages, rather than just by directly asking a girl out. The result, the article posits, is that traditional ideas on dating are being replaced by a much more casual hookup culture. In short, men of this generation have traded in the traditional dinner and a movie date with hanging out, text messages and social media correspondences. 

The article points to three big items that I have trouble digesting:
1.    Young people now live in a culture where traditional dating has been largely replaced with casual and vague hook ups
2.    There is a serious lack of real communication and/or too much technology involved in communication of young people
3.    Young men are getting lazy with their date ideas

However, looking around at my fellow millenials, and men in particular, I find the article to be unfair. I know plenty of men who still take the traditional spin on dating. Sure, communication has become a bit more confusing with emails and texting, but I know of more men who still directly ask people out on dates than I do men who just subscribe to an all-hook-up-all-the-time mentality. My guess is that it’s the sheer number of ways we now have to connect cause confusion, but this doesn’t mean chivalry is dead. Chivalry just texts now, too.
And for the still fair amount of men who prefer the casual hookup – is this actually new? I know plenty of women who prefer that, too. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but if a woman prefers someone who will wine and dine her…can’t she just not engage with someone asking to do otherwise?
Case in point, the article quotes a woman who says she began a series of hookups with someone she liked. Was someone stopping her from just ending the relationship if she did not like what was happening? Instead, let’s call it like it is – both people choose to engage in the behavior. If you don’t like the behavior or the direction the relationship is taking, you can stop it and find someone more on your page. This is not new. These have been the rules of dating, well, for forever.

If courtship is ending, it is because we are all allowing it to do so. Not just men.  And not just women. If one doesn’t want to just hook up, don’t.

The one item I definitely agree with? “Dating culture has evolved to a cycle of text messages, each one requiring the code-breaking skills of a cold war spy to interpret.” Maybe Siri will be able to help with this sometime in the future? (For all you history nerds: Maybe she’ll crack the code faster than the Brits did with Enigma). So decode this for the tech savvy women, Siri: If you want to be courted, act like it.

Jan 23

The charisma conundrum

Biden. JPGMy esteemed colleague, Deb Brown, recently penned a Stand-Up Executive blog entitled, 'Are you charismatic?' In the text, Deb referenced an article that lists ways in which one can become a charismatic leader that others listen to.

Deb says, "I believe that you're not charismatic until the audience puts aside their texting and tweeting to listen to you."

To which I respond, Do I really want/need to be a charismatic leader?

I'm not alone in questioning the importance of charisma to leadership. Indeed, Dartmouth B-School Professor Sydney Finkelstein, published a book entitled, 'Why Smart Executives Fail.' In it, he lists seven habits of spectacularly unsuccessful executives. Guess what habit he included? Yup. Charisma.

Finkelstein says, "When executives become media darlings intent on burnishing the company's image (and their own) at every opportunity, they lose their operational focus." Catastrophe often ensues, he adds. And, the academic says, "if you can name a company's CEO,  that alone may be a sign the company's in trouble." Yikes.

Finkelstein's P.O.V. sure holds true for the likes of Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, BP's Andrew Heyward, Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein and the tarnished golden boy of Wall Street himself, Jamie Dimon.

One could argue all of the above were charismatic leaders. And, one could support Finkelstein's claim that all of these guys placed personal accolades above operational excellence.

Then, again, there are those charismatic leaders who DID succeed: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Welch are just three examples.

I see charisma as a value add, not a trait to be learned, mastered and then used to manipulate the masses. Guys like Mussolini, Hitler and Saddam Hussein showed us what can happen when charisma is used for all the wrong reasons.

So, what's your take? Do you agree with Deb Brown that charisma is a trait every business person should add to her arsenal or should it be weighed against other personality traits that may be better suited for the leader in question and the business being led?

I can tell you that public relations has very few charismatic leaders. Indeed, some are an absolute bore. But, these very same leaders have built strong, successful brands without being lauded as PR's  JFK or Ronald Reagan.

It's a conundrum, don't you think?

Jan 22

Jets Coach Rex Ryan Tops Repman’s Annual Distrust Barometer

Trust_meter2n something of a surprise, beleaguered New York Jets football coach Red Ryan topped Repman's annual Distrust Barometer which the blogger describes as a completely bogus and superficial snapshot of skullduggery that rivals the far more rigorous and prestigious Edelman Trust Barometer.

The Distrust Barometer names the previous year's LEAST trustful people, places and things.

Repman said Ryan was a near unanimous selection for the top spot among voters (who include Former U.S. Congressdog Mick Cody, a few Manhattan Street people, 'Fireman Ed' the former Jets cheerleader, and commuters on Rep's NJ Transit 7:27am train to the city).

Repman explained why Ryan was voted Most Distrustful (or, least trustful, if you prefer):

“Ryan really lowered the bar in new and meaningful ways in 2012,” said the blogger. “First, after bragging his first three Jets teams would win successive Super Bowls, Ryan kicked off the 2012 campaign by importing Tim Tebow (who rode the bench all season long), continually supported QB Mark Sanchez (whose wickedly awful play would most likely now find him chosen last in any eighth grade pick-up touch football game) and punctuated his bald-faced lying by declaring this year's squad to be the most talented Jets team ever.” The Jets finished a dismal 6-10 and, somehow, some way, Ryan held onto his job.

The other top ten least distrustful people, places and things in Repman's 2012 barometer were:

2.) NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line (which, post Hurricane Sandy, simply refused to tell passengers if, and when, regular service would ever be returned). “Their utter contempt of courteous service was surpassed only by their refusal to communicate basic information.” said Repman. “They gave Coach Ryan a real run for his money.”

3.) United Airlines (whose CEO continued to star in pre-flight hagiographic videos heralding the arrival of 50 state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliners even WHILE said Dreamliners were busy being grounded by other airlines for faulty batteries, fires, etc.). “I've heard of CEOs being out of touch before, but this United guy must be living on Mars,” mused Repman.

4.) New York Mayor Bloomberg who, despite the carnage caused by Hurricane Sandy, continued to import power generators for Central Park and insist the New York Marathon be run (all while major parts of his town remained without heat or electricity). Repman called Bloomberg an updated, male version of Marie Antoinette.

5.) Alex Rodriguez, who despite his post steroid-fueled body's continued breakdown, chose to flirt with a couple of attractive female fans in the stands as his Bronx Bombers were being strafed and bombed by the Detroit Tigers. “The man redefines the expression dumb and dumber,” stated the list-obsessed blogger.

6.) Lance Armstrong. No explanation needed.

7.) Ed Moed, my business partner and co-founder who, throughout the year, promised to author a Repman guest blog, but never did.

8.) iPod headphone wires which, no matter the manufacturer, continued to endlessly torment this blogger by becoming hopelessly entangled and continually falling out of the ear cavities. “My kingdom for headphones that do neither,” pleaded Repman.

9.) The PR industry awards' programs, which continue to charge one price for all entries, thereby assuring large agencies can flood the judges with hundreds of entries while tiny ones can afford to submit one or two at most. “This disgraceful practice is PR's version of baseball's color barrier circa 1947,” noted the baseball trivia-loving Repman.

10.) The heinous person (or persons) who dognapped the stuffed animal facsimile of Pepper, Repman's late black lab, and the pooch for whom the agency was named. The plush dog once proudly greeted visitors to the agency's fifth floor. Speaking directly to the dognapper(s), Repman pleaded, “Have you no humanity? Or, in this case, caninity?”

Note: The Repman Distrust Barometer is unashamedly superficial and completely bogus. Yet, its author believes it to be the perfect counter balance to the brilliantly conceived and executed Edelman Trust Barometer. Repman would like to believe the REAL truth lies somewhere in-between the two polls.

Jan 18

Lean is the new black for the corporate fast track

Business-suit-gym-fitness-295x480As if there weren't enough personal reasons to stay fit, a new study shows that leaders with larger waistlines and higher body mass index readings are seen by co-workers as less effective, both in terms of performance and interpersonal communications.

Yes, Virginia, the bigger you are, the less likely you are to be the big man (or woman) on the corporate campus, says the Center for Creative Leadership.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's success notwithstanding, obese executives don't so very well when compared to their fitter peers. Our lives have become so stressful and the 24×7 demands of the workplace so intense that employees now believe a fit, trim boss is better prepared to handle the mental and emotional demands that go hand-in-glove with a C-Suite title.

Barry Posner, a leadership professor at Santa Clara University's Leavy School of Business, says he can't name a single overweight Fortune 500 CEO. And, neither can I.

Lean is the new black for the corporate fast track. And, in my opinion, that's a very good thing. A balanced diet and intense, regular exercise has produced numerous professional benefits for me, including:

– Dealing better with stress
– Cleansing my mind and soul
– Re-charging me in a way a weekend on a beach or a bottle of sauvignon blanc never could.

I'm fortunate to be addicted to exercise. And, I keep a close watch on my diet as well. But, I spy many, many obese executives as I travel to my various business meetings. And, while I've never discounted them or their abilities, I have wondered why these aspiring fast-trackers didn't take better care of themselves.

Now, with the CCL results in hand, we have proof positive that a sedentary lifestyle and a steady diet of Mickey D cheeseburgers is the corporate equivalent of a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

In addition to all the other qualities Millennials, Gen Xers and Gen Yers must possess in order to grab the brass ring, they now need to get off the couch, put down that supersized Coke and beginning trimming up ASAP.

So, let's get going: Drop and give me 25, now!

Jan 17

Buster Berkeley To the Rescue!

Today's guest post is by Chris Piedmont, College of Charleston '14, Communication Major and PRSSA President.

BusterMany Repman readers have trained business executives in social media, but how many of you have done so with high school and grammar school principals and administrators? During my winter break from the College of Charleston, I was able to do exactly this with many of the school administrators in Berkeley County School District in Berkeley County, SC. The County recently decided to give each school the option of having their own social media presence on Facebook. Having interned in the Communications Department over the summer, I was given the opportunity to conduct the training sessions.

Throughout training, I was surprised that teachers share many of the same concerns about social media as CEOs do: the loss of control, perceived time consumption, etc. Although almost every one of the administrators I interacted with shared the same or similar concerns, at the end of each training session almost all of them chose to go forward with launching their own Facebook pages.  We showed them how to make things as easy as possible for posting, monitoring, etc. and after seeing these suggestions and tips it helped quell many of their concerns (although they were certainly not eliminated).

One of the biggest fear and concern that was continuously expressed among the administration within each school and the District as a whole, was the perception that Facebook and social media would muddy the waters between their personal and professional lives. Each Facebook page has a section in the “Terms of Engagement” that specifically addresses this concern by stating that parents and students shouldn’t be offended if a school district employee didn’t accept a friend request, but we also came up with an additional way to help address this concern-Buster Berkeley.

Buster Berkeley is the official mascot for Berkeley County School District and he travels around to the various schools, departments, offices, and events that go on throughout the school district and then shares his adventures with the community on his Facebook page. Buster’s Facebook posts are done not only by the communications staff but also the Cabinet and senior level officials within the District and is used as a way for them to get involved with the District’s social media efforts without connecting, in any way, with their own personal profiles.

Whether your client is a CEO, school administrator or a member of the community we all share the same concerns and fears about our social media interactions. That apprehension is a blessing and makes us more alert, focused, always posting with specific intent. That apprehension is a blessing and makes us more alert, focused, and intentional  with exactly what we post online. Perhaps you can employ a similar tactic to Buster Berkeley to get apprehensive clients to take the plunge into the scary, but oh so important world of social media.

Best of luck, Repman readers!