Oct 31

Dos and Don’ts from Jay Z’s Barneys Response

Today’s post is by Peppercommer Paul Merchan.

jay_zWhen news first leaked that high-end department store Barneys had allegedly racially profiled two young, black shoppers who had legitimately purchased items there, the online firestorm ensued. Calls for boycotts, apologies from the store, and more surfaced online. But there was one aspect of the situation that was particularly dicey: the fact that rapper Jay Z found himself, as it is with many cases of racial profiling, at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jay Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation had recently teamed up with Barneys for the release of the New York Holiday collection, a line of clothing and accessories that will go on sale in late November. The proceeds would go to his foundation for helping underprivileged youth. So this racial profiling case immediately represented a risk to not only Barneys’ image and reputation, but Jay Z’s as well.

The Brooklyn-born rapper’s fans called for him to terminate the relationship with Barneys. They even went as far as attacking his street cred (not the first time this has happened), saying he “sold out” and that they would question his character if he kept his connection with the retailer. Jay Z’s reaction to this is an interesting case to study for all communications professionals:

What he did right
•    Maintained the relationship with Barneys. In his public statement released over the weekend, Jay Z noted that all the facts have not yet been uncovered in this situation. He is wise to let the chips fall first, since terminating this corporate partnership prematurely would imply that Barneys has a culture of discrimination, and that’s an accusation that has not been merited thus far.
•    Paralleled himself with the falsely accused. Jay Z reminded everyone where he came from. He said that he is no stranger to being profiled and that he empathizes with anyone in this situation. By doing this, he showed that he has been in the shoes of the falsely accused and that he wouldn’t condone a discriminatory act.

What he did wrong
•    Took his sweet time. In his statement, Jay Z said he had been investigating this with his team as soon as he heard about it, but that he wanted to have all the facts before saying anything. While this is all fine, he should have crafted some kind of response much sooner. He didn’t have to take a position. All he had to do was say what he said in his weekend statement. Taking his time allowed the public perception to mold itself, something that’s never good for a brand.
•    Said he was “forced” into a statement. A cardinal rule in crisis communications is to never make it seem like you don’t want to be there. Jay Z could have left it with his “waiting for the facts” line. Instead, he made it seem like the situation is a burden on him, and that he is the victim, even going as far to say he was being “demonized” by the media.

As for Barneys, they still have an uphill battle. They have apologized to the two shoppers and to Jay Z, but it’s still unclear if there was any profiling from their employees. There is a he-said/she-said with the NYPD, and a lot of unanswered questions.

So if you were Jay Z, what would you do?

Oct 29


– Mick Cody announced his Canine Institute will launch a similar study to determine if humans possess intelligence

Lincroft, NJ, October 29, 2013 – Canine activist and former U.S. Congressdog, Mick Cody, today derided Emory University research that showed dogs have the same feelings as humans calling it, “demeaning, demoralizing and doggone stupid.”

Former Congressdog Mick Cody (foreground) relaxes with his master (center) and life partner, Rooney (right).

Former Congressdog Mick Cody (foreground) relaxes with his master (center) and life partner, Rooney (left).

The controversial Cody, who many call the Reverend Al Sharpton of the animal world, pawed at the finding as “…yet another example of species-baiting on the part of humans.”

The Emory research involved two dogs, whose reactions to various stimuli were examined while they were unrestrained and awake while inside an MRI machine (“Talk about animal abuse!” snarled the pooch politico.)

Researchers say they proved for the first time that canines possess the same ‘caudate’ section of the brain as do humans. The caudate activates “…when we anticipate things we enjoy, such as food or spending time with a loved one,” said the Emory egg heads.

Is human intelligence an oxymoron?

Relaxing on a couch in the family room of his former campaign headquarters, the pit bull said he’d fund similar research on humans:

“I’d like to examine the brains of Kim Kardashian, Snooki, Michael Vick, Miley Cyrus and Jets Coach Rex Ryan to see if they contain any semblance of intelligence,” snarled Cody. “And, if Cyrus even thinks about twerking during the MRI experiments, I’ll personally ensure she loses some very sensitive body parts,” yelped the country’s first elected canine.


The disgraced ex-Congressdog charged the Emory researchers with species-baiting. “In its own way, the work at Emory is as insulting as some of the experiments performed on Rhesus Monkeys,” he said, “I can’t wait to reciprocate. After all, the bible does say, A tooth for a tooth.”

Cody first rose to prominence in the aftermath of the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal. He rode a tide of populist outrage to be voted the first U.S. Congressdog. He was later forced to resign in the aftermath of a sexting scandal involving a cat.

The controversial canine also hinted at a second round of human intelligence testing that would include the likes of the Tea Party’s Ted Cruz, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. “I’ll bet a year’s supply of Beggin’ Strips we don’t find any sign whatsoever of brain activity in those nut jobs,” snapped Cody.

The former Congressdog ducked questions as to the source of the monies needed to fund his proposed research, saying, “I need to chase some squirrels and lift my leg. Later, amigos!”

Oct 28

Dumb and Dumber

I thought it was critically important a woman guest blogger posit her views on the Clifford Chance controversy. In the interests of full transparency, it should be noted that Peppercomm once represented the law firm. I strongly suggest you post your comments on today’s blog. How would you have handled the crisis (i.e. this was front page news in The New York Post)? And, do you agree with Erin’s POV?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Erin Howard.

Late last week, news broke that a partner from the law firm Clifford Chance circulated a memo titled “Presentation Tips for Women” to the firm’s female associates.  What’s that you ask? Why wouldn’t men and women find presentation tips helpful? Maybe because the majority weren’t actually presentation tips at all. sexy prosecutor aaapublic defender costumes

Here are a few of my favorite gems from the memo that was shared on Above the Law:
•    Don’t giggle; Don’t squirm; Don’t tilt your head.
•    “Like” “You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You Know,” “OK,” and “Like.”
•    Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.
•    Practice hard words.
•    Wear a suit, not your party outfit.
•    No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.

There are so many offensive things about this situation, and the attack on women through the memo is just the beginning.   The offensiveness keeps coming with the firm’s response – or non-response should I say – which was shared with Above the Law:

“The original presentation and associated tips represented a personal perspective, shared with a group of colleagues, some just starting out in their careers… While much of what is covered is common sense, we believe that it is important that women as well as men are given access to a range of different viewpoints and approaches…The offense caused by a small percentage of the suggestions in the tip sheet was entirely unintentional.”

The firm made two classic blunders here:
1.    Allowing the presentation tips to be shared with female associates in the first place.
2.    Not recognizing and apologizing for the offensive content in the response. Instead, Clifford Chance inferred it was no big deal.

Basic crisis communications tactics would have led Clifford Chance to admit fault in allowing the memo to circulate, apologize, and publicly announce a new policy or procedure to ensure it won’t happen again.  These actions would have illustrated that the firm takes sexism seriously. But that isn’t what happened. Simply put, this behavior – the memo and the response – is unacceptable. What’s astounding though, is that this sexism is almost expected:

Gothamist said in its response to the memo: “To be fair, it is important that someone teaches young women just starting in their careers out how chauvinistic law firms can be.”

And Above the Law: “While we look forward to seeing the “common sense” memo distributed to the firm’s male attorneys… we have a distinct feeling that it just doesn’t exist.”

By brushing something as serious as sexism aside, the firm is setting a precedent that this behavior is completely acceptable.  It’s not only harmful to the women at Clifford Chance, but it’s harmful to the perception of BigLaw as a whole. As we see from the media’s reaction, incidents like these force the perception of how women are treated at law firms to take five steps back – for everyone.

How can this perception be changed? For starters, by changing the reality. The 2012 National Association of Women Lawyers survey found that the medium percentage of female equity partners at AmLaw100 firms was a mere 14.8%.  While this won’t change overnight, communications can help move this change forward by raising awareness of the problem. Communications can also help change the perception of how firms value women – internally and externally.  Firms that realize the importance of increasing the women in their top ranks can be more vocal about programs that support women and their dedication to the advancement of women. And certainly, when incidents like this happen – which they are bound to – firms can proactively acknowledge the fault and proactively take positive steps – publically – to communicate that this is completely unacceptable.

Oct 24

What’s your state’s rep?

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommmer Paul Merchan

reputation-managementWe’ve heard it a million times over – New Yorkers are rude, Californians are laid back, and the mountain of stereotypes never seems to end. Is there any truth to it all? Any relationship whatsoever between where you live and what your personality is like? How about where you live and what opportunities you have? And can that be a bad look for the state/city you live in? Talk about a high “state” in reputation!

Measure of America and Opportunity Nation released a study this week that among other things, showed that just under six million young adults between 16 and 24 years old are neither working nor in school (Millennial-itis, anyone?). Some have postulated that this has nothing to do with wanting to do something with their lives, but rather the lack of opportunities where they live.

For example, the study found that Vermont is the best place to live for safe communities, and opportunities in economy and education, followed by Minnesota and North Dakota (they also happen to be very cold… any connection there?). My home state of New York ranked 20th, not bad I guess in the grand scheme of things. The Opportunity Index scored 16 factors of opportunity in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, even narrowing down its findings by county. The website says its aim is to give “policymakers and leaders a useful tool to identify areas for improvement and to gauge progress over time.”

While we patiently wait for our elected representatives to enact legislation to improve our lives, these findings can either lend credence to existing stereotypes or dispel them. For example, Oakland, Calif. has been notoriously linked to crime and poverty. A recent ESPN article noted that African-American males in high school have been murdered at the same rate as those who graduate with enough credits to get into a state university. The Opportunity Index, however, notes that Oakland’s Alameda County has a high school graduation rate above the state and national average. I should note that there are some pretty nice areas of Alameda County as well. On the other hand, my home borough of Brooklyn, NY posted a 64 percent high school graduation rate, well below state and national averages. Yes, Brooklyn’s reputation precedes itself (one of my buddies from out West once quipped, “How did you make it out of there alive?”).

So if your state has a bad rep for providing opportunities, how about a sense of humor? A separate study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology surveyed over a million people in the U.S. on their personalities. The result was a personality index by state that showed where the most neurotic people live (West Virginia), the most open place (Washington, D.C.) and many more categories. The friendliest states? Nebraska and Iowa. New York ranked in the “temperamental & uninhibited” category (Hey! I’m walking here!). I took a self-test and was told I belong in Washington, D.C. I guess I am an open kind of guy. Go figure!

So what’s your states rep? Bad boy or momma’s boy? And do these kinds of studies reinforce that notion? Will people ever stop thinking that Brooklyn is full of crime and that people in the Midwest are just the nicest people on earth?

Oct 23

Hail Redskins! (Not)

indiasssnsPresident Obama recently said that, if he were the owner of the Washington Redskins, he’d change the team’s nickname.

Do you agree? Should the Atlanta Braves do the same? How about the Chicago Black Hawks? And, what about the thousands of high school football teams sporting Native American team nicknames? Should they ALL change their names?

Click on the link to join Native American activist, Deb Brown, this blogger and Wayne McDonnell (Associate Prof of Sports Management, NYU).

We’ll toss around this image and reputation football and debate whether Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder is making a major image and reputation mistake by refusing to change the team’s name.

Oct 22

A valuable learning lesson

f-gradeFor the past 18 months, I’ve had the privilege of writing a weekly column for a global business publication.

While I typically tackle the gap between what organizations promise in their marketing messages and end users actually experience, I’ve also been asked to wax poetic about the government shutdown, Marissa Mayer’s high-profile gaffes at the helm of Yahoo! and other mainstream business stories.

Every now and then, I’ll be asked to make a few edits but, for the most part, my columns run as I’ve written them.

Recently, I decided to pitch my editor on a column about content creation and the rise of ‘the organization as publisher.’ I’ve been following this development, and periodically visiting such best-in-class examples of the phenomenon as IBM’s Smarter Planet web site and National Public Radio’s ‘This Day in 1963‘ Twitter series.

But, unlike the other areas I cover for the publication on this I am most assuredly NOT a subject matter expert. And, so I turned to my colleagues at Peppercomm who WERE thought leaders.

They suggested different angles, additional examples and even provided an introductory paragraph. But, as I labored away at the first draft, I realized I was out of my depth. The 800-word column I typically bang out in 30 minutes took an entire morning. And, when I’d finished, I was far from pleased. I forwarded the text to my internal experts. They provided quite a few suggestions but, since, I was already over my word limit, I only accepted only a few.

I sent the finished copy to my editor. When I saw her response, I felt like I’d traveled back in time to my freshman journalism class at Northeastern. She asked such basic questions as:

– Why is this newsworthy now? What’s the hook?
– Why should readers care?
– What’s the difference between blogs, podcasts and other old school website content tactics and the elements in your column?
– Is content creation applicable to both BtoB and BtoC companies?
– Surely not every organization should become a publisher. Which ones should?

The edited text reminded me of the photographs Matthew Brady had taken after the Battle of Gettysburg. It was bloody.

But, after recovering from my first serious flop with the publication, I began to smile. I’d learned a valuable lesson:

– You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

I’d mistakenly assumed I could easily tackle a subject far outside my comfort zone. I was wrong. It was a great wake-up call and reminded me why my agency is making the organizational changes we are: it’s no longer good enough to be a generalist. The marketing communications world in which we live demands deep expertise. So, we’ve bought two firms that add a wealth of category expertise to our existing team.

Peppercomm no longer aspires to be all things to people. We’ll be sharply focused from this point forward. And, I’ll stick to writing about subjects and topics in which I can draw on a few decades of hands-on experience.

I’m a big advocate of spreading one’s wings, taking oneself out of one’s comfort zone and experiencing the new and unexpected. But, NOT when it comes to writing, or speaking, about a ‘foreign’ subject in front of a global audience. It only took one reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg to show me the light.

Oct 21

Dr. Baseball is my Mr. October

aroddd jpgWayne McDonnell (Associate Prof of Sports Management, NYU) suited up to join our Repchatter team this past week to discuss the latest Alex Rodriguez image and reputation nightmares for A-Rod, the Yankees, organized baseball and even the American Latino community. Click below for yet another lively back-and-forth with the man they call Dr. Baseball.(BTW, who is ‘they’?)



Oct 18

Education isn’t a right. It’s a privilege.

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Laura “Bedrock” Bedrossian. 


On Oct. 8, a headline in USA Today caught my attention (and the attention of one Mr. Steve Cody. Thanks, Steve) in a bad way: U.S. adults lag behind counterparts overseas in skills.

The article covered the first-ever international comparison on education of 23 industrialized nations of people between the ages of 16-65 years old—and the results for Americans between are nothing short of embarrassing. The country, my country, and the age group I fall in, falls below international averages in every sector.

The oldest Americans in the sample (those between 55 and 65) turned in a higher-than-average performance in reading. In math, those same test takers were even with the 7% international average. Not too shabby.

The problem, however, is apparently with the youngest sampling that dragged down the average for the country in nearly every subject.

What happened? With all of the speeches from various politicians, I assumed that education was one of our top priorities. Clearly this is not true given these scores, the number of budget cuts at schools across the nation, truancy rates, etc.

I’m not going to pretend to know the answers, but I have some ideas, and I think one of the main issues is an interest in education. As a Millennial I look to the generation before me and that of my grandparents’ generation as I think of these issues.

My father’s parents lived through the Great Depression and knew what it was like when school wasn’t something that everyone got to go to. It was a privilege. My grandfather graduated from high school, while my grandmother and her siblings could only make it to the end of elementary school before they had to go to work instead. Education was always important to my grandparents to the point of near obsession. My grandfather in particular was pretty tough on his own kids when it came to school—to the point where they grew to resent him.

Growing up my parents—particularly my father—weren’t too strict with me in terms of school. I always had good grades and loved going to school (full disclosure: I was/am a nerd and wanted to do well). I tend to think he was more lax because of how his parents pushed him. I think he wanted to avoid the same resentment from his own children. I can’t help but wonder if that is a similar sentiment of people in that era and if this generation produced many others like my father, who was just happy that I went to school and was generally a good kid. He didn’t care if I were always on the honor roll. Could this be a trend for Boomers and how they raised Millennials? Maybe. Maybe not.

There are so many factors that go into education, so it seems almost impossible to pinpoint the issue—teachers, parents/guardians, socioeconomic status, etc.

I think (hope) education is still important to people, but wonder if the country as a whole has taken it for granted. Is it taken for granted that we all have the right to go to school until we hit grade 12? Is it taken for granted that, if you want to, there are ways to make sure you get a college degree?

On the news, I’ve heard anchors say, “Well, kids must be happy, it’s a snow day! No school!” Should they be happy? Is it helping these scores and the general interest in learning to be planting seeds that school is a chore?

There seems to be a lack of thirst for knowledge. Not across the board, but it’s certainly enough where we’re clearly performing at low levels. We should be embarrassed. We should be talking to kids and ourselves and asking what else we can be learning.

It might take a bit of a culture shift to get people to start encouraging people to read more and want to learn—again, not that there aren’t many people who do this, but I really don’t think it’s widespread enough.

I definitely recommend the book I Am Malala to be reminded about how education in other countries isn’t taken for granted, and in fact, people are fighting to be educated. I don’t think it will take much, but the country just needs a nudge to remember how important it is to continue learning at all stages of life. Perhaps Millenials and the generations to follow will become inspired to learn more and we will see our scores and hunger for knowledge improve once again. The fact that we need intelligent people in the workforce to stay competitive in a global economy should scare people into making this shift on their own, but maybe they haven’t wanted to read/learn anything on that topic yet.

Oct 17


boone2Imagine you’re the top kick at a global PR firm’s crackerjack travel & tourism division. You’re the envy of peers and competitors alike.

You’ve won every conceivable award handed out by our industry’s trade press including the one for the highly-coveted ‘Special Event: Seven Days or Less.’ (Note: The latter always sounded Biblical to me, and led me to wonder how Noah’s brief, but brutal, battle with the flood, might have fared (“We admired Noah’s ingenuity and creativity, but let’s face it, God had to give him the heads-up, so where was the research and strategy? As for results, the judges believe Noah could have squeezed more animals into the ark. We’re awarding an honorable mention.”).

Anyway, your phone rings. It’s a brand new client who wants you to begin work yesterday (then why did she call today?). You put the client on hold, wave in the minions who will actually do the work, ease back in your overstuffed chair and hit the speaker button:

“Go ahead, ma’am. You’re speaking to the best travel & tourism publicist since Columbus convinced Ferdinand and Isabella he’d found a new route to India,” you say, with a wide grin.

The client tells you her state has just been named America’s most dangerous and, without immediate positive image and reputation repair, her office is looking at a multi-million loss in tourism AND she’ll be forced to reinvent herself as a travel industry consultant-at-large.

You adopt your best bedside manner to calm the patient. “Ma’am, I’ve seen it all and done it all. And, that phrase, turning lemons into lemonade? It was dedicated to me,” you declare, winking to your seated, smiling subordinates.

“Besides,” you continue, “Whether it’s Florida or Texas or New York or California, we have so many other, positive attributes and attractions to hype that we’ll positively bury that number one ranking in any Google search.”

And, then she lowers the boom. “I’m calling from Tennessee.  Some scandal sheet called 24/7 Wall Street says Tennessee leads the nation with the worst violent crime rate. We’re in the top 10 for murders and robberies AND, get this, they say we’re holding down the top spot for aggravated assaults. Toss in the fact that we don’t have the Grand Canyon, DisneyWorld, the Empire State Building, or even a damn beach, and you’re looking at a world of hurt. What do we do?! And, whatever it is, we need to do it now!!!”

You’ve suddenly lost your swagger. You sit up straight, and stare at your colleagues, hoping one of them has some semblance of an idea. The silence is deafening.

So, you go into survival mode. You draw upon the vast reservoir of past Saber, PR Week and Silver Anvil Award-winning campaigns, and, voila, concoct a strategy and program themes on the fly:

“First, relax, ma’am. We’ll have Tennessee off that inconsequential list faster than you can whistle Dixie,” you say. “Our strategy will be to admit the truth. Hell, we’ll embrace the truth. After all, authenticity is the currency of the realm. Or at least that’s what my CEO always says. So, we’ll turn a negative into a positive. We produce research proving most Americans are bored, find the average travel destination bland and want to experience something new. Bingo. We’ve identified, and now OWN the consumer challenge.”

“Now, and this is the tactic that will result in the two of us hoisting a PR Week Award over our heads one year from today (or yesterday, if you prefer). We create memorable slogans that the blogosphere will spread faster than you can drop an opossum from a tree at 1,000 yards. How do these grab you:

– ‘Want a bigger bang for your buck? Try Tennessee.’
– Tennessee: ‘High anxiety. Low costs.’
– ‘Where do you think Anthony Weiner found his Twitter handle? Tennessee: the Carlos Danger of states.’
– ‘Want to tell the grandkids a truly riveting story? Try one of our aggravated assaults in Knoxville. Hey, we’ll even provide the surveillance video so you’ll have years of viewing pleasure for the whole family. Tennessee: ‘We’ll capture your excitement at the same time we capture the crooks.’”

Your ideas are greeted by silence. Then, the client responds. “This is brilliant! My boss will love it. He wanted something edgy that will break through. How soon can we see creative?” She asks.

You allow the silence to linger a bit longer than necessary in order to maximize the gravitas of what you’re about to say: “How’s yesterday sound?”

You hear delighted shrieking on the other line. You hang up the phone and issue one quick order to your admin, Inez Inertia: “Tell Accounts Payable to invoice the State of Tennessee $100k up front. They’re lucky. I just gave them a million dollar campaign.”

Now it’s time for a well-earned lunch. And, you deserve it. The most interesting man in PR has solved another problem, and set the stage for yet another industry award… Special event: ‘Seven Days or More’. I wonder how Moses, and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt would have fared, “Super strategy and measurable results. But, the judges would have liked to have seen more publicity around the parting of the Red Sea. Where was CNN?  Honorable mention.”

And a tip o’ Repman’s cap to Greg Schmalz for suggesting this post.

Oct 16

Oreo Cookies were my gateway drug

oreosmontanaA Connecticut College study released today reports that Oreo cookies are as addictive as cocaine.

I can relate. Oreo Cookies were my gateway drug to a childhood and early adult life that was positively filled with preservatives, sugar and other artery-clogging goo.

I’d guess my Oreo addiction began when my mom dished them out at our weekly Cub Scout gatherings (Pack Two. Den Two. Ridgefield Park, N.J. division of the Cubbies, thank you very much).

I soon craved Oreos, and followed every lunch and dinner with a heaping, helping of the bad, black, cream-filled wonders.

But, sure as rain, Oreos weren’t enough to sate my sugar needs. Like some desperate heroin addict, I craved more. And, at about the same time Sally Ann Pappan introduced me to the wonders of French kissing (Sally: please re-connect), a friend turned me on to Devil Dogs.

Talk about love at first bite! Devil Dogs were my crystal meth. I’d literally inhale two boxes in the course of an average weekend. I was hooked to the point where I began mainlining the brown beauties.

It wasn’t until I met the health-conscious Angela Phillips (the first of my seven, consecutive fitness-conscious wives, BTW), that I was reborn. Ms. Phillips awakened me to the reality that Devil Dogs were the Anti-Christ of healthy living. It was Angie who also served as my first sponsor, and introduced me to Devil Dogs Anonymous (DDA).

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been sugar sober for 32 years, three months, 14 days and 24 seconds.

But, my struggle to resist DD’s and their evil gateway cousin, Oreo, remains a day-to-day journey. I attend regular DDA meetings at St. Drake’s Sugar-Free Church in Chelsea. I also speak often to my current sponsor, Eli Manning (Note: Some reporters blame his horrific season to the lack of a daily Devil Dogs sugar rush).

So, who wins when Oreo loses? Ronald McDonald, of course.

In fact, I’ll bet the fine, fattening folks at Mickey D’s Oakbrook, Illinois, headquarters are adding an extra slice of celebratory cheese to their morning Egg McMuffins. Party hard, guys. Enjoy the moment. And, ask not for whom the addiction bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

It’s just a matter of time before some researcher reports a Double Mac is more addictive than heroin. If that happens, McDonald’s should embrace it. All they’d need to do is dump Ronald for a new mascot. How does Harry the Horse strike you?