Dec 27

Citizen Christmas

I’ve been a proponent of, and practitioner in, citizen journalism for quite some time now.

I believe each, and every, one of us should express our POV EXCEPT when it:

– Espouses a doctrine of hate

– Takes a rigid ‘my way or the highway’ approach

– Regales me with tales of people, places or things that have no relevance in my life.

The latter proliferate at Christmas time in the form of ‘year-end’ family letters.

We all get these. Some come from friends. Others come from family members. The ones I receive almost always come from an acquaintance I once met when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House.

Typically, year-end Christmas letters are written by a member of the distaff side of the family (as in, ‘It was yet another amazing year for Bill, Bill Jr, Little Amy and me. We hope that all of our loved ones have a reason to feel as blessed as we do this Christmas’).

The letters also, always, make a few, mistaken assumptions:

– That I have first-hand knowledge of the protagonists (‘Nicole started a new physical therapy job in November.’ Awesome. Who’s Nicole?).

– That I’ve been following their family’s annual successes and setbacks, and will understand why Danny’s third root canal in as many years is a cause of concern.

– That I’m not appalled by poor grammar and spelling (‘Sebastian would of yelled at the admissions officer but me and Sebby, Sr., didn’t rase our kids to act that way,’).

– That I actually care what happened to these complete strangers (‘Well, after three years of waiting, Ted finally popped the big question to our dear, darling Mary Ellen. Words cannot describe her delight, or ours”).


I have a friend who created her own, faux Christmas family letter. It begins with the salutation: ‘Did you have as amazing a year as our amazing family did? Of course not. How could you? Your family simply isn’t as amazing as ours.’

And, I think that about sums up year-end family letters. They exist for one reason:

– To enable the author to remind herself, as well as her friends and complete strangers like me, how amazing she, and her family, are.

The best citizen journalists know how to engage a reader. One does so by making the written content crisp, concise and compelling.

Citizen Christmas letters, on the other hand, are bloated, befouled by bad grammar and beyond boring.

‘….So, let me tell you about my kids, Chris and Catharine, and the amazing things they accomplished in 2013…’

Dec 26

My letter to Princess Kate (Can I call you Kate?)

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer, Matt Purdue.


Hi Your Royal Highness,

Merry Christmas, or, as you say on the other side of the pond, Happy Christmas! How are the kids, George and William? Ha!

Listen, I know it’s tough being a new mum and all. (I’m a parent myself.) Keeping all those silver baby spoons straight. Finding an all-night drug store near the palace when you run out of nappies at 2 a.m. (Tip from me: do NOT use a paper towel instead. Just trust me on this one.)

But I want to give you a bit of advice. From a PR perspective, just what are you doing? It’s time to step it up.

Kate (can I call you Kate?), what do you stand for? You’ve been given what we in the States call a bully pulpit. It’s time you start using it. This guy is stealing all your thunder. In honor of every article on the interwebs now being a list, here’s a list of three things you can do to grab the spotlight and make the world a better place:

  1. Pick a global cause: While I imagine how exhausting it can be keeping track of all 20 rooms in your place, the world outside the palace can be a pretty tough place for many people. War, famine, pestilence — the whole Four Horsemen thing. Do us all a favor: pick one and fight it like hell.
  2. Tell your own story: Whatever macro-problem you choose, let us all know how it relates to you. Make it authentic. Did you go to school with a woman from Syria? Did you play cricket with a guy from the Sudan?
  3. Embrace the legacy: Sorry to bring this up, but someone has to address the pink elephant in the room. You have the perfect model for making a difference on the world stage. Yes, you know who. Like it or not, you’re always going to be compared to Diana. Well, you can choose to like it…and follow her example.

Look, I don’t mean to be tough on you. I know you do some great charity work. God love ya for championing the cause of children’s hospices in the UK. I’m not saying stop what you’re already doing. I’m saying do more…on a global scale. And now that your little sis just got engaged, she just might steal your PR thunder.

You’re the most photographed woman in the world. It’s time to turn the lens elsewhere.

Dec 23

Hate is not a business strategy

The recent Duck Dynasty brouhaha is yet another example of PR ‘gurus’ missing the larger, business picture and focusing, instead, on image and reputation.
Rabbit SeasoningDavid E. Johnson’s blog is a perfect case in point.

Johnson argues that Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and A&E, the cable network that airs Robinson’s reality show, are deftly handling his hateful comments. He believes the pro Christian, anti-gay, comments resonate well with the show’s core viewers. Indeed, Johnson believes the media hype will actually attract new viewers.

I disagree. In fact, to borrow a broadcasting expression, I see the Duck Dynasty episode as little more than a Chick-fil-A re-run.

If you recall, the fast food chain’s president caused an uproar a few years back by making similar hate-filled comments (and citing the bible as the definitive source on such issues). In the immediate aftermath, Chick-fil-A experienced a series of highly publicized boycotts by pro-Gay groups and alienated countless employees and prospective customers.

We live in a highly polarized society, with fundamentalist religion serving as the jet fuel stimulating hateful words and deeds.

We’re also hamstrung by reactionary ‘leaders’ who pour gasoline on an already raging inferno by adding such inane comments as the one from Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor, vice presidential candidate and self-proclaimed hockey mom defended Robertson’s words by posting this on her Facebook page: ‘Free speech is an endangered species. Those intolerants hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.’ And, to think this woman could have been a heartbeat away from the presidency. Yikes!

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the rabble-rousing talk show host, Geraldo Rivera, have made similar statements defending Robertson.

America needs to stop hating, and start cooperatin’, as Ms. Palin might say.

American business executives need to stay focused on the bottom line, and keep their personal religious views out of the discussion.

And, PR bloggers need to step back and realize that hate-mongering is NOT an image and reputation strategy. It’s a devisive, shameless short-term move that will only wreak long-term brand damage.

Dec 19

Instant karma’s gonna get you

facebookrespondsHarold Camping, the man who twice predicted the end of the world, just passed away. Ironically, he died at the end of the year.

In case you don’t recognize the name, Brother Camping, as he called himself, was an engineering whiz who, by slicing and dicing clues in the bible, arrived at two separate ends of days.

When his first, last day in 1994 fizzled out, Camping said his addition and subtraction had been faulty.

But, when he landed on May 21, 2010 as the new, true apocalypse Camping’s cable TV ministry went all out to trumpet the news.

He ran countless ads, paid for billboards on major highways and even had 20 specially-designed RVs tour the country to whip up frenzy and scare the heathens into repenting.

Sadly, hundreds of people bought into Camping’s bogus predictions. Many sold their life savings in the misguided belief they wouldn’t have no need for earthly possessions in the afterlife.

Ah, but May 21, 2010 came and went without any sort of end of days fireworks.

I still recall Brother Camping’s halting response to one reporter’s question about the end of the world. She asked him about the International Date Line, and whether the end of the world would first occur in the Far East. That one stumped Camping, who sighed, and said “Just wait and watch.”

We did. And, nothing happened.

Camping was, in all likelihood, a good guy who simply went off the rails. But, his image and reputation will be forever tarnished by his ersatz beliefs and the countless lives they ruined.

Brother Camping thought he’d figured everything out, and that he, and his flock, would be among the few, select human beings to enjoy heaven’s rapture when the world came to an end.

Instead, instant karma got him.

Dec 18

Re-run RepMan

RepMan is hanging off some mountain cliff in the wilds of New Hampshire this week. Here is the third “best of” posts; it goes back to October 2005.

The crack marketing minds at McDonald’s have fumbled with their sponsorship of a new, CBS/NFL pre-game show segment called the “Pounder Index.”

Each week, McDonald’s and the CBS pre-game crew of erstwhile NFL jocks rate the most vicious tackles/hits of the preceding Sunday from a video and audio standpoint. Each tackle/hit is assigned a “Richter-scale” like number based upon its viciousness and loudness. The hapless New York Jets and their wide receiver, Laverneus Coles, took top honors this past Sunday for a shot Coles received courtesy of a Buffalo Bills safety that registered a “whopping” 9.1 on the Pounder Index scale.Pounder1023051_1

One wonders how McDonald’s Pounder Index would have rated the hit that Jack Tatum laid on Darryl Stingley back in 1978, leaving Stingley permanently paralyzed? Would that have topped the Coles tally of 9.1? Or how about the time another Jet, Dennis Byrd, ran full speed and head-first into a teammate and broke his neck? Byrd eventually recovered, but never played another down. Would Byrd’s horrific collision have carried enough visual and acoustical drama to have made McDonald’s top Pounder Indexes of that long-ago week?

It seems to me the burger marketers can find better, more humane ways to reach the NFL’s Joe Six-Pack audience than spotlighting the ever-more horrific “shots” that NFL players lay on one another.

C’mon McDonald’s. Stop with this hitting below the belt. Pull the “Pounder Index” segment. We deserve a break today (and every Sunday).

Dec 17

Re-run RepMan

RepMan is hanging off some mountain cliff in the wilds of New Hampshire this week. Here is the second “best of” posts, originally posted March 2009.

Monday’s “mega storm” or “East Coast Event” as the media are billing it has made a lot of newscasters very, very happy.

Newscasters live for big snow storms. They’re like little kids in a candy store. You can sense their excitement as they talk about high wind gusts, treacherous road conditions and school closings.

And, they just adore total team coverage. I was just watching the local Fox affiliate correspondent reporting “live” from Rego Park, Queens. Gee whiz. Live from Rego Park, Queens? Wow. Anyway, she was bundled up like an Eskimo, scrunched over like an elderly woman with osteoporosis and screaming triumphantly, “Just look at that wind whipping the awning of the bodega behind me! This is pure white out stuff, Curt!”

The media love to end every weather report with the same daunting admonition, “If you must travel today, please be sure and take mass transit. But if you don’t have to travel, by all means stay safe at home!”

The collective media overkill  makes me wonder what these intrepid “journalists” would do with a real Rocky Mountain-type blizzard that dumped, say, four or five feet on New York? They’d probably go on a 72-hour, non-stop media bender. You’d see beaten and beleaguered field reporters standing on snowy street corners hour after hour. I can just imagine an “anchor” sitting inside a warm studio, directing his freezing and exhausted cohorts to pack it in. “Amy, you’ve done enough. Go home and get some warm soup inside you!” But, being the formidable frontline correspondent that she is, Amy would bravely refuse. “No Curt. My job is to be here at exit 124 on the Long Island Expressway, letting our viewers know just how bad it is. Remember everyone, if you must travel, for god’s sake, take mass transit! As for me, I’m staying here, Curt, right up until the bitter end.”

Newscasters use a combination of frenzied excitement and somber gravitas to make it seem as if they’re covering a fire fight on the Gaza Strip instead of a 6 to 10 inch snowstorm. They’re not happy unless they’ve succeeded in shutting down every school, emptying the shelves of every Acme in the tri-state and interviewing every last stranded passenger at LaGuardia.

Yes, for the media, a snowstorm is the most wonderful time of the year.

Dec 16

Re-run Repman

RepMan is hanging off some mountain cliff in the wilds of New Hampshire this week. Hope you enjoy a few episodes of Re-run RepMan, and if you have any requests, let me know.

Here is the first RepMan Re-run. This, from December 2011.

Take a guess where New York City finished in The Reputation Institute’s 2011 City Mountain-,,goat-1 RepTrak? Forty-ninth place.

I will repeat that: Manhattan finished 49th! So much for ‘I love NY’. Heck, if you believe The Reputation Institute, just about no one loves New York anymore.

In fact, the Big Apple barely finished in the top half of a group of cities the Institute ranked on overall trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings as well as such other attributes as the local economy, administration and general appeal.

London topped the list (and, since I’m an Anglophile and absolutely adore Londontown, I have no problem with that at all). But London was followed by, get this, Geneva, Switzerland… Geneva Bloody Switzerland!

I just visited Geneva and, if pressed to describe it in one word, I’d opt for ‘boring’ with a capital B, and that rhymes with G, which stands for: ‘Gee, what was The Reputation Institute thinking?’

According to The Reputation Institute (a former Peppercom client, BTW), there’s “…a direct link between cities’ reputation and people’s willingness to visit them or do business in them.” Oh.
Kasper Nielsen (a good guy, BTW) says, ‘”…people are almost three times more likely to visit cities ranked in the top 10 compared with those ranked in the bottom 10 of the reputation ranking.” To which I respond: balderdash!

There’s no way tourists are selecting Geneva, Switzerland, over Manhattan. No way.
Could you imagine a happily married couple evaluating the relative charms of each venue for their upcoming vacation?

Lars: “Look at this, Helga. In New York, we can choose from the new 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Broadway theatre, the U.N., Times Square and, of course, the Circle Line cruise.”
Helga: “Not so fast, Lars. Geneva has that water spout in the middle of Lake Geneva. The children love water spouts.”
Lars: “Ach. It is a dilemma. How will we ever decide?”

Sometimes, people take data too literally. And, while a city such as Geneva may poll dramatically higher than either New York or Hong Kong in certain categories, I simply do not believe that, when push comes to shove, the city by the lake is going to take tourism dollars or convention business away from its far bigger, far cooler competitors.

I hate to say this, but I’m questioning the reputation of the Reputation Institute’s City RepTrak.

What’s next? A Reputation Institute survey that reveals Americans have selected Fargo, SD over Camden, NJ, as the nation’s most livable crime capital? I wouldn’t buy it for a second. Not with the likes of Oakland, Houston and Miami in the wings.
As one of Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’ baseball managers once said of his mathematical stats showing his improvement from one year to the next, ‘Tell your statistics to shut up!” Someone needs to say the same thing to The Reputation Institute.”

Dec 12

Investment Lessons from the English Premier League

Today’s guest post is by WalekPeppercommers Armel Leslie and Dmitriy Ioselevich

TThe English Premier League (EPL) is one of the oldest and most followed sports leagues in the world. Many of the world’s most recognizable brands belong to this league—clubs with a reputation for success that, in some cases, dates back to the 19th century.

But what can football (or soccer) teach us about investing and investor perceptions?

One of the things that make the EPL so popular is the intensely loyal fan base that always expects the most of their club, idealizing each player’s performance and dreaming of championship glory. This is a trend that is common to most major professional sports, but it has also become prevalent in the investment industry.

Retail investors routinely treat their favorite stock or investment the same way they treat their favorite players and teams—always expecting the best. (Institutional investors are sometimes guilty of this behavior as well.) This is a dangerously flawed way of thinking.

To see why, consider a club such as Manchester United, which has a long track record of success and each year is expected to contend for the title. You might compare Man U, which is itself publicly traded, to a company such as Apple. Both have reputations for being the best in their respective industries and are expected by shareholders (i.e. fans) to continue to perform at a high level.

On the other hand you have a club such as Liverpool, which dominated in prior decades but has not won a Championship since 1990, two years before the Premier League was even formed. An apt comparison might be Microsoft, which similarly led the first revolution in computers and is now stuck playing second fiddle to Apple. Relative newcomers to the heavyweight division such as cash-happy Chelsea and Manchester City have their own counterparts in social networking giants Facebook and LinkedIn.

Predicting the future is always tricky, but both fans and investors alike can heed the following principles to guide realistic expectations of where their teams and investments might be heading:

•    Look at the underlying assets of the organization and remember that “past performance is no guarantee of future success” (or failure). Just ask David Moyes, who fell into the boots of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson and  has since shepherded Man U to their worst start to a season in 24 years.  Both fans and investors need to be completely objective and not fall in love with a name or brand.

•    Beware of teams that chop and change at the first sign of possible trouble because they run the critical risk of not thinking about the long-term. Buying high and selling low (often in a market downturn driven panic) is as disastrous for an investor as an EPL team firing the coach before he has a chance to prove his worth. Both events exhibit a short-term mentality and a “want it all now” attitude that will likely fail in the long run.

Protracted underperformance however should be dealt with and portfolio managers fired if they are unable to deliver on a medium to long-term horizon. After all, the bottom three teams in the EPL are relegated to a lower division at the end of each season, the ultimate punishment for not delivering on promised returns.

Evaluate how individuals play as part of a team, not just how good the ‘stars’ are individually. What’s key is to analyze whether the overall team and management has what it takes to deliver a repeatable process and success over the long-term.

Easier said than done as many EPL fans are born into their allegiances, but there is no excuse for investors that fall into the same trap in a game where losing has a whole different meaning.

Dec 11

Talk about listening to the customer!

9498623Every now and then a company comes along that restores my faith in basic humanity. In this instance, it’s an airline. Yes Virginia, an airline!

As loyal Repman readers know, I despise most airlines, and have reserved a special place in hell for United, and their oh-so-unfriendly skies.

That’s what makes WestJet’s amazing holiday story well, so amazing.

Intent on surprising AND delighting passengers (talk about an oxymoron), WestJet first asked departing passengers from two different Canadian airports what they’d like for Christmas. Then, as they boarded their flights, specially-assigned WestJet ground teams in each arrival city rushed to buy the gifts. Finally, when the arriving passengers went to baggage claim, their holiday gift wishes came true (up to, and including, a wide screen TV).

You MUST watch the video at the bottom of this news article. It’s guaranteed to make you tear up.

I don’t know who devised the WestJet holiday surprise program, but she, or he, is an absolute genius. The airline not only listened to passenger wants and needs, they dipped into their own corporate coffers and made the dreams of kids from two to 92 come true. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

This is the best, smartest and most creative campaign to come down the pike in a long, long time.
Here’s hoping each, and every, employee at WestJet is rewarded with their own special gift this holiday season. And, that judges at PR Week, the PRSA, PR News and elsewhere recognize the program accordingly.

And a tip o’ RepMan’s pilot’s cap to ex-Peppercommer Brian “Bruno” Mieth for suggesting this post.