Apr 30

Corporate Social Irresponsibility

6438553281_0e0357689aIt's one thing to peddle fast food and pretend that people are “Lovin' it!” After all, one can make the argument that the McDonald's and Burger Kings of the world are merely giving the great unwashed masses what they crave.

But, I'd have a tough time looking in the mirror if I represented Wendy's.

In case you missed it, the Tier B fast food chain recently introduced 'The Five Dollar Moonlight Meal Deal'.

Yes, that's right Virginia, if you haven't wreaked enough havoc on your body during the day, you STILL have a chance to buy a $5.00 combo at Wendy's that is only available AFTER 10 pm, and features a Double Stack Hamburger, Chili Cheese Fries AND a large drink!

To be precise, the special offer is described by Wendy's wordsmiths as '…two junior hamburger patties topped off with American cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickle and onion. Made fresh when you order it. Big on taste and small on price!'

I'd say it's also big on triggering a massive coronary event say, around 2am. Not to mention the extra pounds that one will amass by allowing those 1,270 calories to cuddle up in one's arteries, stretch out in one's gut and add inches to one's girth during the night.

But, don't take it from me. There are countless, documented studies that prove eating after dark is the NUMBER ONE way to add weight and nourish those festering, obesity-related diseases taking hold in one's system.

As Satchin Panda, associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, said, “…If you snack until midnight and sit down to your breakfast at 7am, your body may never get the opportunity to burn ANY fat before you start reloading your glycogen stores again.” Talk about a recipe for disaster.

I'd call Wendy's Moonlight Meal Deal a raw deal (as well as a text book example of corporate social irresponsibility).

America has a well-documented obesity epidemic. And, our health care costs are skyrocketing precisely because a largely sedentary populace is inhaling junk food from the likes of Wendy's. Offering a special incentive to consume some 1,270 additional calories when the body is about to shut down for a night's sleep is the fast food equivalent of pouring gasoline on fire. Or assisted suicide. You decide which.

Either way, how do the Wendy's people look at themselves in the mirror? Maybe they're just too tired after inhaling one of those Moonlight Moon deals.

And a tip o’ Rep’s cap to Thomas J. Powers, Jr.* for suggesting this post.

* Thom is a Leukemia and Lymphoma
Society Man of the Year Candidate. Please support this charity and
"vote" for Thom by donating to the LLS: Click here.

Apr 29

The United States of Myopia

Center_of_the_universe_tshirt-p235665977396062327q3vu_400With the rare exception when a deranged foreign dictator threatens our national security, we Americans remain perfectly content to fixate on news events within our borders.

Case in point: After a positive deluge of frenzied coverage in the days, and now weeks, following the tragedies in Boston, our press glossed over an earthquake in China that claimed 15 victims, a building collapse in Bangladesh that killed 87 and a Moscow psychiatric hospital fire that snuffed out 38 lives.

Could you imagine if the hospital fire had occurred in one of our major cities? Twitter vigilantes would be posting one speculative comment after another speculating not only on who set the blaze, but also falsely accusing anyone, and everyone, captured on the building’s security cameras of being terrorists. Forced to rush to judgment, our cable and mainstream broadcasters would assign armies of reporters to the beleaguered hospital grounds and repeatedly ask the same bystanders the very same question, “What did you see and, more importantly, how did you feel when you heard 38 people had died?”

American’s obsession with America is unhealthy. It limits our understanding of the increasingly interconnected global economy. More importantly, it puts our Millennials, and their younger peers, at an increasing competitive disadvantage. The less they know about global events, the less prepared they’ll be to compete in the future.

So, while our media fixates about Justin Bieber’s latest meltdown, other, more responsible sources such as the BBC World News will provide viewers with continent-by-continent updates on developments that really matter.

America is doing many, many things wrong at the moment. And, while the epicenter of inertia may be the Beltway, make no mistake that our increasingly parochial news coverage is providing a very real disservice to our nation’s young people. When the time comes for them to compete with their peers in China, India, Russia, Brazil and elsewhere, they’ll know next to nothing about the rest of the world. But, they will be able to cite chapter, and verse, about Lindsay Lohan’s latest transgression. That knowledge (in combination with a complete lack of global perspective) will ensure a long, and rewarding, career behind the counter of the nearest McDonald’s Restaurant.

Apr 25

We have met the enemy and he is us

9781402796197_p0_v2_s260x420Did you know that 300 U.S. companies continued to provide
the Nazi war machine with vital products and equipment throughout the Battle of
Britain and didn't stop doing so until after the Japanese attack on Pearl

According to Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams, the
authors of a fascinating book entitled, Grey Wolf, these weren't no-name
corporations either. GM, Ford, ITT, Alcoa and Standard Oil were just some of
the companies who aided and abetted the enemy. In fact, in recognition of his
service to the Third Reich, Henry Ford was one of only 14 non-Germans to
receive the uber prestigious Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle.

I think these scandalous facts are more timely than ever
since one could posit the view the U.S. is inadvertently responsible for aiding
and abetting the notorious Boston bombers.

As we now know, our country provided vital war material
to the Taliban during the 1980s when a young terrorist by the name of Osama bin
Laden joined thousands of other Afghani rebels to oust the Soviet Army from
their country.

Later, when we abandoned the Afghans to their own
devices, they turned on the U.S. and began taking their first, small steps on
the road to 9/11, and beyond.

According to published reports, the Tsarnaev brothers
learned both their radical Islamic ways and crude bomb-making techniques on the
web. And, one could argue many of those web sites wouldn't exist if we hadn't
completely abandoned the Taliban way back when.

I've always believed in the aphorism, the past is
prologue. With so many Americans scratching their heads and wondering how
things have gotten so bad, we really need to call a time out and do a whole lot
more digging. We need to go beyond merely understanding the grievances between
Russia and Chechnya. We need to understand our own culpability in initially
aiding and abetting the enemy (and fanning the initial flames of Islamic
fundamentalist terrorism).

As the authors of Grey Wolf point out, helping the bad
guys seems to be an American tradition of long-standing. To quote Pogo, 'We
have met the enemy and he is us.' Would that the average American could put it
all in perspective.

Apr 24

Marissa Mayer digs herself an even deeper hole

DigIn a typically muddled attempt to clarify her decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer chose her April 18th keynote slot at The Great Place to Work Conference to set the record straight:

“People are more productive when they're alone, but they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two ideas together,” she explained. 

The problem with Mayer's 'clarification' is two-fold:

– Despite its poor, year-after-year performance and me-too status, people still follow Yahoo's lead. Best Buy, for example, ended its flex-time work policy one week after Mayer pulled the plug at Yahoo.

– Second, countless research has been conducted that proves Mayer is dead wrong.

For example:
– Working from home is GOOD for creative work. Remote workers are 11 to 20 percent MORE productive when performing creative tasks, according to E. Glenn Dutcher, a University of Innsbruck researcher.

– Telecommuters are almost twice as likely to work more than 40 hours a week, according to a joint study by the University of Texas and University of Iowa.

– Because of these, and other positive by-products of telecommuting you can find in this Inc. Magazine article, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, has said: “The people who are allowed to telecommute now tend to be the oldest, highest paid and most trusted employees. I call it the five percent privilege. Businesses need to get past that.”

Amen, Ms. Lister. Amen. Peppercomm's telecommuters also happen to be among our most trusted and valued employees.

I think Ms. Mayer's bizarro world version of the Emancipation Proclamation was done for one reason and one reason only: it was a highly creative way to downsize the hundreds of Yahoo employees who for financial, physical, moral or ethical reasons couldn't afford to uproot themselves and their families and relocate to Sunnyvale, California. Period. It had nothing whatsoever to do with productivity, creativity or collaboration.

And, for Mayer and Yahoo, that's nothing to shout (or yodel) about.

Apr 23

Need Reputation Management? Don’t call SCDP

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Rebecca Maas.

Mad menI like to think that if I were a 1960’s chief marketing officer in need of an ad agency, I’d hire the team at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I appreciate, and relate to, their scrappiness. Their creative director is a self-made legend. The work isn’t too shabby, either. But If I were the head of public relations and was called upon by my executive team to manage a crisis of reputation, I’d go elsewhere.

For those who missed Sunday night’s episode of AMC’s hit, Mad Men, here is a quick recap (sorry, space allows for industry-related highlights only. If you want to know if Don is still cheating on Megan, click here. Or, just take a wild guess.):

SCDP client Dow Chemical is in a firestorm of negative publicity thanks to its position as sole provider of napalm to the U.S. government. The chemical compound is used to drop napalm bombs on North Vietnam, aligning the company with war efforts and making Dow incredibly unpopular, particularly with anti-war groups.  The clients turn to the SCDP team for help. Harry Crane, the (formerly likable) agency’s TV department head, offers a solution: sponsor a Joe Namath variety show, “Broadway Joe on Broadway,” with other entertainment heavy-hitters including Juliette Prowse and Joey Heatherton. Good news for Harry: despite the fact that this pitch is completely devoid of strategy and won’t actually alleviate the media’s attacks on Dow, the clients give the green light right then and there. Mr. Crane also lands himself a fat commission.

Those of us who have helped clients through crisis and reputation management issues can tell you right off the bat that this sweet little TV special ain’t gonna solve Dow’s image meltdown. There are three main reasons why:

1.      Broadway and Joe Namath don’t address the issue at hand for the media regarding Dow. Airing this special will not cause newspaper and other reporters to forget about Dow’s government contract. The one thing Harry Crane got right is that there is an opportunity for the company to be in primetime in a positive way. But attempting to fool people into associating Dow with fluffy content instead of napalm bombs is a huge risk. 

2.      The major protesters of Dow, and drivers of media coverage, are college students. Where are college students hanging out in the evenings? Not in front of a TV, looking to catch primetime musical specials. Instead, they are out drinking, smoking grass and planning their next sit-in. The primary audience that Dow wants to see this special actually won’t. Instead, the viewers will consist of housewives who likely already think positively of Dow, thanks to its other products like Saran Wrap and Scrubbing Bubbles.

3.      The wrong agency provided the wrong counsel. SCDP produces great creative and brand strategy for Dow Chemical. They’re not, however, the right team to advise the brand on how to handle this crisis. The result? Dow wrote a check for $150k – almost a million in today’s dollars. Had they gone to their PR team, the amount on that check would have likely been much less and the results a lot stronger.

I’ve spent some time criticizing Harry and his crack SCDP team, so I feel obliged to offer up some counsel of my own. Let’s assume SCDP was an integrated communications agency and had a PR department. I’d quote my esteemed colleague Don Draper and tell the Dow client: let’s change the conversation. I’d take it a step further, though, and instead of offering a misaligned strategy, I would recommend we create goodwill by talking instead about the positive impact Dow delivers to both customer and community, including those who are currently protesting. As mentioned above, Dow produces tons of other products that are way less offensive than napalm. Let’s focus there, and mobilize the fans of those products to drive positive buzz for the company. I’d also suggest we get the CEO on a media tour, having him (it’s the ‘60s so, yes, him) sit down with major players in the press. Prepare him for those tough questions because they’ll absolutely be asked. And if we want to be bold? Send him to some of these anti-war protests and sit-ins; have him make conversation with these students and change their perception of Dow Chemical. 

This episode brilliantly, if briefly, depicts a scenario we sometimes see across the industry: a brand runs into some trouble and a paid media Band-Aid is swiftly applied, with hope that it’s enough to distract us from their issue. The smart brands, though, flex their PR muscle and address the issue head-on. It may not be Joe Namath, but it’s a solution that shines brighter than all the lights on Broadway. 

Apr 22

The 4-H Club of PR

Coach_Thomas_-_ScoutsFor the first time in its eight-decade history, The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will be paying tribute to the scouts who discovered many HOF members.

The Hall is unveiling a 'Diamond Mines' exhibit on May 4th that will include initial scouting reports on everyone from Tom Seaver ("…boy has plenty of desire to pitch and wants to beat you.") to Mickey Mantle ("…great hitter. Fair fielder who is not now a good shortstop.").

A few decades back, Boston Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson came up with the term 4-H club to describe his craft. He said, "We:

– Hope we find a prospect.
– Hope we pick him in the draft.
– Hope we sign him to a contract.
– Hope he can play."

That got me thinking that we PR scouts (and, I'd include the likes of Bill Heyman and Dennis Spring to a list that includes my fellow agency owners, senior executives at holding companies and their pit bull, in-house recruiters) also have a 4-H club.

I'd say the 4-H club of PR hopes for the following traits in the employees we hire. We:

– Hope they are news junkies
– Hope they come to the plate with the ability to write, pitch media and manage accounts
– Hope they check their egos at the door, possess a self-deprecating sense of humor and are team-focused from Opening Day forward
– Hope they have a passion for lifelong learning and aspire to be part of what's next in our profession.

Baseball's 4-H Club has had far more failures than successes (and, most seem to have been failed Mets players, BTW).

I'd say PR's 4-H club has had the same limited success. One need only read the PR trades to watch the relentlessly revolving door at large agencies (“Fleishman's Smith joins Porter as head of Global Healthcare while H&K's Jones leaves to fill vacant F-H slot”).

Peppercomm scouts have made lots of hiring mistakes over the years as well (including one infamous junior account executive who disappeared after her first morning of work).

In objectively assessing our current starting line-up, however, I'd argue that we've succeeded in hiring the highest concentration of true superstars in our firm's history.

The key though, as it is with the Kansas City Royals or Minnesota Twins, is to keep our superstars where they are, and not allow the deep-pocketed Webers and Edelmans (the Yankees and Red Sox of PR) to lure away our talent with their tempting, if oh-so-untrue and tired line, “Hey kid, isn't it time you played for a major league team?”

So, do you agree with my list of 4-H's for PR? If not, what H would you add or delete? Note: You only get one at-bat.

Apr 19

Spamming the spammers

SpammmmmDespite all the king's filters and all the king's software, we all STILL receive far too much spam.

Nine times out of 10, I'll hit the delete button on spammers but, on certain occasions, I'll engage with the spammer to let them know:

– My name is Steve, and not Sweve or Stephan.
– My surname is Cody, and not Codey, Cory or Cod.
– My firm's name isn't Peppercorn, Peepercam or PeepeeCom.

On other occasions, the spammer is so badly misguided that I'll thank him for his inquiry, but tell him I'm simply not interested in placing an ad in Turkey's Defense & Security Magazine.

Knowing my predisposition to engage with the truly bizarre spammers of the virtual world, Ann Barlow, our West Coast manager, will often suggest one of her unwanted stalkers connect with me.

This just happened, and I thought I'd share the results.

Ann forwarded an inquiry from an outfit called Zeno Radio. The spammer wanted to know if we were interested in radio advertising targeting immigrant groups. Since we don't provide advertising services nor target immigrants of any kind, Ann thought the spammer was primed to be spammed.

I thanked her for the introduction to Zeno's Yossi Rossberg and told him that, while I would like to use his service to target immigrants, I was only interested in reaching height challenged ones.

That lit a fuse under Yossi's spamming butt. I'll let you read the exchange (and pay special attention to the growing list of individuals copied on the e-mails).

From: Yossi Rosenberg
To: Ann Barlow
Subject: Advertising Opportunities with ZenoRadio
Hi Ann,
noticed that your ad agency has some clients that target immigrants in
America. Our platform is a surefire way to target immigrants in America.

has hundreds of thousands of listeners a year from the African, Central
American and Asian diaspora who currently reside in America. We take
popular ethnic radio stations and attach them to an American phone
number. People do not need a smartphone to listen, but can listen using
any phone. The call is absolutely free. Ethnic cab drivers, security
guards, merchants and house wives in America listen to us for literally
tens of millions of minutes a month.

I would love to spend some time with you walking you through our backend.
Thanks, Yossi

From: Ann Barlow
To: Yossi Rosenberg
Cc: Steve Cody; Dandy Stevenson
Hi Yossi,
so much for reaching out. I'm copying Steve Cody, who runs our
immigrant relations practice.  I think he'd be very interested to know
more about ZenoRadio and your back end.

Best, Ann
From: Steve Cody
To: Yossi Rosenberg
am indeed, Yossi. That said, our particular area of expertise is
marketing to height-challenged immigrants which, if you'll excuse the
pun, is a growing market. Can you forward information that is size

Best,  Steve
From: Yossi Rosenberg
To: Steve Cody; badjoke@peppercomm.com; Dandy Stevenson; Ann Barlow
Our listeners from Senegal and Ghana average at about 5'1. Around 20% are little people and 10% are dwarfs
From: Steve Cody
To: Yossi Rosenberg
Nice. Just to be sure we're on the same page, how do you differentiate dwarfs from little people?
From: Yossi Rosenberg
To: Steve Cody
Cc: pompousprguy@peppercomm.com; arrogantprdude@peppercomm.com; Dandy Stevenson; Ann Barlow
From: Steve Cody
To: Yossi Rosenberg
Really interesting article. Thanks so much, Yossi.

I think the best way to deal with spammers who don't take the time, or effort, to understand your business is to waste THEIR time in a pointless, but funny, exchange.

It may take a few minutes, but I guarantee that neither Swede nor Stephan of Peppercorn, Peepercam or PeepeeCom will ever again hear from Zeno Radio.

Apr 17

Lincoln’s filter

Image.aspxDo you have Lincoln’s filter? Justin Bieber sure doesn’t. ("Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.")  And, Mel Gibson most definitely didn’t.  And Charlie Sheen doesn’t
have any kind of filter at all. (“I’m so tired of pretending my life isn’t perfect and bitching and just winning every second and I’m not perfect and bitchin’.”)

So what, exactly, is Lincoln’s filter? I’ll paraphrase the description from a biography of our 16th president written by one of his two private secretaries, John Hay.

Lincoln was arguably the most polarizing president in American history. In fact, one could argue that Obama and W. combined weren’t as polarizing as Honest Abe. As a result, The Great Emancipator received hundreds of letters, notes and telegrams that either disagreed with his policies, called him horrible names or threatened death. Since many of these missives came from leading politicians, journalists and businessmen, Lincoln would often respond immediately. He’d dash off a heated response to an irate letter, and then set it aside for the entire night. The next morning, reports Hay, Lincoln would re-read each, and every, one of his responses and, invariably, toss 90 percent in the wastebasket. Why? Because Abe didn’t want to respond in the heat of the moment, say something he didn’t intend to have repeated or have his remarks misinterpreted.

I’m working hard to improve my Lincoln filter. But, I’ve had issues along the way. One of my blogs ended up being front page news on O’Dwyer’s for two successive weeks. Another earned me a lifetime ban from being a PR Week awards judge (Yes, Virginia, I’m the Pete Rose of public relations). And, a third so incensed an ultra-conservative client that he used it as the excuse to terminate our relationship (when, in fact, his PR budget had been cut).

And, if reply-to-all e-mail responses were a felony offense, I’d be serving 10-to-15 years in prison at Sing-Sing as we speak.

But, I am trying to improve. I find myself deleting many, many e-mails that, in my Bieber/Gibson/Sheen days, I would have sent. And, I have two great teams of internal editors who review my Repman and Inc. Magazine columns before they ever see the light of day. I cannot tell you how many times my peers have saved my hide (if not my reputation).

So, how about you? Were you born with a Lincoln filter or, like me, have you had to learn when to hit send and when the smarter, safer course of action is, instead, to simply press delete? Either way, I’d love to hear your war stories. Civil, or otherwise.

Apr 16

Red Stripe and a book or Gu-Gel and a belay?

Steve and chrisA recent test confirmed what I've known for quite some time: spending vacation time in nature dramatically improves one's higher-level cognitive behaviors. In other words, an intense hike in the Himalayas will do far more for your strategic and creative thinking than will a bottle of Red Stripe and a book at poolside.

The research, conducted by psychologists at the University of Kansas and the University of Utah studied the impact of hiking in particular on creativity. I won't bore you with the particulars, but researchers separated the test subjects into two groups: one took the cognitive test before a four-day hike: the other took it immediately afterwards. The research showed that "that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent."

Researchers were startled, to say the least.  “Some combination of disconnecting from the constant rat race of multitasking and interacting with nature showed significant restorative properties,” says co-author David Strayer. “When you clear your mind, you come at a problem from a new perspective, and the solution becomes obvious.” Amen, brother.

I stumbled across the very same observation about eight years ago. After years of traveling to every U.S., Caribbean and Mediterranean resort imaginable, lying on a beach or at poolside and finding my mind working overtime trying to figure out what was happening back at the ranch, I decided to give mountain climbing a shot. I've never mainlined heroin, but I can tell you my addiction to nature was instant and profound.

Since that initial experience, my son and I have ice, rock and mountain climbed around the world. And, in each instance, I've come back totally refreshed and eager to re-engage in the trials and tribulations of my dual life as an entrepreneur and PR guy.

Hiking or climbing provides a total sensory experience: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It's cleansing in every sense of the word. So, I know when my stress levels start to mount and my creative juices begin to dry up, I need only contact Art Mooney to find relief. One might call Art my Mountain Connection. You can find him at (www.mooneymountainguides.com).

Art's one of the top guides in the world, and he ensures that I push my mind and body to the absolute limit while discovering new and drop dead gorgeous vistas.

So, note to any and all students, workers and, most importantly, bosses: if you want a truly creative workforce, I suggest you, and the troops, forget about a week on the beach at Del Boca Vista and, instead, schedule a few days' worth of mountain and rock climbing (or just plain hiking) along, say, the Appalachian Trail or Nevada's Red Rock Canyon. Oh, and there's one other benefit: a few days of hiking and climbing is a whole lot less expensive than a three-day weekend in Bermuda, Jamaica or St. Croix.

There are hiking trails and mountain climbs for any, and all, levels of fitness (or, non-fitness for that matter). So, there's really no excuse not to see what nature can do for you.

Try it. You'll not only like it. You'll come back completely re-energized and ready to come up with a Silver Anvil award-winning creative idea. And, that's what I call a win-win.