Mar 31

Food, glorious food.

Today’s guest post is by  Greg Schmalz, president, Schmalz Communications.

Movie-MCC-FinaleThe calendar may very well indicate it’s spring, but the weather has been far from spring-like. Sure, there’s been an occasional nice day with sun and some warm temps, but overall, the northeast has been cold and I have lost count of how many snowstorms we’ve endured.

Combine bad weather (who wants to brave a snowstorm unless they have to?) with a volatile economy and restaurant owners, among other retailers, have felt the pinch. Unfortunately, a high number struggle to survive and too many mom and pop restaurants and diners have closed their doors for good.

Meals at restaurants sometimes cost three times as much as the same meal prepared at home, consumers have been tightening their belts and cutting expenses wherever possible to make ends meet.

According to an industry analyst from market research firm NPD, there could be light – make that daylight – at the end of winter’s long dark tunnel. Data shows that more than 77 percent meals were prepared at home when the recession begin back in 2008. That number rose to nearly 80% last November.

However, consumers say they will dine out less frequently next year. Why? Not because of finances. Because of concerns about health.  The most recent survey found that 60 percent of consumers said they want to eat more healthfully in the next year, rising from 50 percent of respondents in the first quarter.

So while the weather may clear up, another storm is brewing for the already beleaguered restaurant industry.

But what about you… have your dining habits changed over this winter? Are you considering more healthy choices when dining out in the future?

Mar 27

On Success

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester.
OnSuccessVisualI grew up in a Pennsylvania coal town. Mine fires, just below the surface, were a constant threat, often consuming whole neighborhoods in a flaming, sulfuric haze. There was a palpable gloom to the place. Opportunities were scarce. High School football was serious business, and the only way out for the majority of guys. I regularly got my butt kicked in front of 10,000 people under Friday night lights. After high school, most shirts came with a blue collar that didn’t guarantee much more than minimum wage. So, for most, if you survived, it’s probably because you left.

I’m one of the lucky ones, now perched in the warm glow of a climate controlled Park Avenue office, happily creating marketing campaigns – a modern day Don Draper, sans the booze and babes.

Yet even from here, I can still see my inspiration, my mission, as clearly as yesteryear. My discomfort with leaving my hard-working brothers and sisters for a cushy office job was countermanded by the knowledge that, if I did a good job, my family would have good jobs. If my clients grew and prospered from the marketing ideas my colleagues and I generated, thousands more families across the country would have jobs. As each supply chain fueling these companies expanded, the number of jobs expanded exponentially. With that, I’d have done my job.

Of course, the above model of success requires management that truly wants change and growth and has the energy and enthusiasm to engage, even if that engagement requires a cultural change. To embrace change, to embrace a new model, requires vision, courage and trust in ones marketing partners.

I am proud of the awards I’ve won. But I’m most proud of being part of a marketing team – client and agency working as one – for a national retail chain that grew from 50,000 employees to 140,000 (not to mention the jobs the supply chains added to keep up with demand).

People love smart, engaging and effective marketing. All of us, as marketers, can be proud of the fact that when people ask, “Why did they do that?,” we are the ‘they’. I take pride in that.

That, to me, is success.

Mar 27

Has Manhattan’s Basketball Coach Fouled Out?

Today’s guest post is by WALEKPeppercommer Chris Gillick

dusssnceFor those who might not have seen it, yesterday, Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello had a multi-million dollar job offer rescinded by the University of South Florida. The reason?

Allegedly lying on his resume.

Masiello attended the University of Kentucky from 1996-2000, and was a member of the basketball team for all four years. But a Kentucky spokesman has stated to the media that Masiello did not earn a degree.

From a crisis PR standpoint, these incidents have few, if any, winners. But these instances get a PR professional’s blood flowing fast. If I were the crisis PR manager for any of the parties involved, here would be my advice for each.

University of South Florida: BE THANKFUL AND CONTINUE YOUR COACHING SEARCH. South Florida probably comes out looking the best.  It cut its losses and potential further embarrassment quickly, and should be thankful that no introductory press conference was ever held. The school can now continue its search for a new coach in relative peace. The search firm definitely earned its fee here.

Manhattan College: DISMISS MASIELLO. On Wednesday afternoon, the school put out the following statement:

[Steve] Masiello is currently in the process of reviewing his degree status with the University of Kentucky. Manhattan College has placed Masiello on leave while he completes this process with the University.

The school is in a tough spot whether it ultimately keeps him or not. Keep him, and the school risks being perceived as emphasizing winning games over academic integrity, a major deal for a small, Catholic school. Dismiss him, and the school all but admits that it made a mistake. After all, nothing was said about this when Masiello was hired in 2011. The school did follow some emergency protocol on Wednesday, removing reference to the credential on Masiello’s official bio. But in the name of integrity, the school should part ways with its coach.

Rick Pitino: CLAIM IGNORANCE AND FOCUS ON YOUR UPCOMING NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME. Hall of Fame coach Pitino is Masiello’s lifelong mentor and biggest advocate. The two faced off against each other in an NCAA tournament game last week, with the teacher barely beating his pupil. Pitino later endorsed Masiello for the USF job. When reached by ESPN, Pitino said, “If it’s accurate, I’m shocked by it. I had no idea… He was on track to graduate.” However, Pitino is senior enough in the coaching ranks that this is just a short term crisis for him.

Steve Masiello:  PLEAD FOR YOUR JOB BACK, AND COMPLETE YOUR DEGREE THIS SUMMER. Once Masiello’s degree status is ultimately determined by Kentucky, Masiello should make a heartfelt public apology one way or the other. That apology should include the specific reason why this came up and why the credential has remained on his resume all these years. If he indeed did not earn his degree, he should pledge to complete it as soon as practically possible.

Mar 26

Why not?

(Note: Rep is headed out on another climbing expedition, and while he’s out, aside from April 1st, the next five or so blogs will be authored by guests.)

why-1The word ‘why’ is easily the hottest word in consulting circles nowadays. Pundits and gurus alike have us convinced that the best and brightest organizations take pains to answer the why question when explaining why they exist.

These very same pundits and gurus assure us the enlightened employees of these oh-so-cool organizations also ask themselves the same why question each and every day, albeit with a slight twist: ‘Why do I go to work every day?’

I must admit I was a tad skeptical about the warm-and-fuzzy nature of the why question.

Then, I read two recent books that converted this Doubting Thomas,

The first is titled, ‘A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas‘ by Warren Berger. My first why question concerns the title: Why the hell is it so ponderous?

Ah, but the text justifies the cumbersome title. To wit:

– Guess how Gatorade was invented? The makers watched University of Florida football players scrimmage under the broiling tropical sun and asked themselves, ‘Why aren’t they urinating more often?’ Bingo. They created Gatorade.

– Guess how the Polaroid camera was invented? A three-year-old girl asked why she had to wait to see the picture.

– A company called Square became an overnight sensation by asking the question, ‘Why can’t credit cards be accepted everywhere?’

In the 1980 presidential election, Daniel Pink argues in ‘To Sell Is Human‘ that Ronald Reagan romped to a landslide victory over incumbent as the result of asking a single question: ‘Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’ Carter simply couldn’t respond.

Interestingly Mitt Romney & Co., tried the same gambit in 2012 only to find more people answered ‘yes’ or ‘the same’ to the better-off question. So, choose your questions wisely.

Berger thinks most mission statements fall flat because they’re crafted as declarative sentences: ‘We use robotics to make the world a better place’ is ho-hum, to say the least.

But, says, Berger, research shows that turning that very same sentence into a question will rally employees, customers and supply chain partners in a far more compelling, and authentic way. To wit: ‘How might we use robotics to make the world a better place?’

See the difference? See the opportunity it extends to one, and all, to participate? See the open invitation for everyone to contribute new ideas?

Pink argues that a why question (as opposed to a declarative statement) makes people think and work just a little harder to come up with their own reason for agreeing or not. And when people summon their own reasons for believing something, they ENDORSE THE BELIEF more strongly and become more likely to act on it.

I don’t know about you. But job one this morning is dusting off our existing mission statement and turning it into a question.

Why? Because I want the outcomes Berger and Pink promise:

– I want my people to feel as if they’re helping answer the question posed by the mission statement rather than shrugging their shoulders and meekly accepting it.

– I also want my employees to personalize the mission statement question and ask how they, themselves, can contribute to the answer.

Why is indeed one very, powerful word. My only question to every other organization laboring under a mission statement written as a declarative statement is this: Why not turn it into a question and see what happens?

Mar 25

Spin sucks

No SpinAt the conclusion of a very successful new business presentation, that we ended up winning on the spot, the CEO of the quite well known client organization said, “Look, I know your business. I know PR. If I had the time and money, I’d build my own staff to do what you guys do. So, don’t try to spin me with all this talk about strategy. I want media. Period. Do it.”

I hate it when I hear the word spin.

So does Gini Dietrich.

Gini’s the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm AND Spin Sucks Pro, a professional development site for PR and marketing professionals.

Gini’s blog, Spin Sucks, is the number one online destination for PR and marketing tips, tools and techniques (Note: Since RepMan provides none of those things, we won’t challenge her number one claim).

Gini’s also written a new book titled, you guessed it, ‘Spin Sucks.’

I must say the book is both an easy read and informative as hell. Even this jaded, world weary, know-it-all learned something new on the very FIRST page: Pope Gregory XV coined the term propaganda when he created Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, a guide to help missionaries spread The Word.

Dietrich’s book contains terrific case studies, a ton of emerging trends and lots of best practices. More importantly, it patiently explains why our craft has become increasingly more strategic AND important despite the average consumer’s perception that we’re little more than a bunch of slick spinmeisters (or spinmaestros, in deference to Pope Gregory).

I recommend ‘Spin Sucks’ for the novice and know-it-all alike. I especially recommend it for the patronizing types like that CEO I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

If he reads Spin Sucks, that CEO just might hold our profession in higher regard (although I doubt it).

And, by the way, WE ended up firing HIM three months into the relationships. His foul-mouthed, mean spirited tirades were just too much. We decided his spin sucked.

Mar 24


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadsddssffsIn an age of information overload and multi-tasking kids of all ages, Maurice Saatchi, founder of the legendary ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, insists on using what he calls one-word equity.

Here’s what he means: since no one has time to remember any elevator pitch any more, even a single tagline contains far too many words.

So, says Saatchi, a few, extraordinary brands have burned their way into our synapses by becoming synonymous with just ONE word.

For example, what credit card company comes to mind when you hear the word priceless?

And what technology company do you think of when you hear the word search?

Author Daniel Pink writes in ‘To Sell is Human’ that Barack Obama did the same thing in his 2012 re-election campaign, making himself synonymous with the word forward. I’m guessing history will remember his eight years in office with a different word, ‘stalled.’ And, his predecessor’s two-terms might best be described by the word, ‘reckless.’

I can think of other organizations that have become synonymous with one word:

– The New York Yankees: Pride
– The New York Mets & Jets: Futility
– New Jersey Transit: Delay
– United Airlines: Chaos

I’ve tried to encapsulate my on-stage comedy performance to just one word but settled, instead, for two: Expect less.

And, after many years of marriage, I’ve decided my brand promise should be: Always wrong.

I’d like to think Peppercomm has cornered the PR agency market on the word fun.

And, Millennials sure seem to have become synonymous with one word: entitlement.

Here are a few more….

ObamaCare: broken
Tea Party: scary
Vladimir Putin: dangerous
Alex Rodriguez: as#hole
Lance Armstrong: liar

The list could go on and on. But, I do think the ultimate image and reputation achievement would be to create a single, positive word that people would associate with your brand.

So, what do you think? Can you share other people, places or things that ‘own’ one word, good, bad or otherwise?

Here’s one final contribution:

Disneyworld: rip-off.

Mar 20

Sorry, but your firm is over-qualified

OverquasssslifiedJust when I thought I’d heard it all, I just heard something new.

After meeting with a prospect and submitting a detailed proposal, our team was greeted by a ‘dear agency’ e-mail that read in part:

“You simply possess too much experience. As a result, we feel both parties would grow frustrated by the lack of expertise on our end.”


So, instead, the prospect selected competitor “whose skill sets better match our own.”


So, I guess they went with a firm that had no experience whatsoever in a rather arcane field and just decided they’d unknowingly step on the minefields in tandem. Now, that’s what I call teamwork! It’s also more than a tad bizarre.

Imagine if other organizations purposely avoided hiring the most talented, qualified individual:

– “Sorry, Tommy, you easily had the strongest, and most, accurate arm in the college combine, but Jets fans will be more comfortable if we select yet another quarterback whose interceptions exceed the number of touchdown passes thrown.”

– “Squadron Leader Smythe-Smith-Smythe, you clearly have flown more hours in more advanced jets and in worse weather conditions than any other candidate. But, at United Airlines, we purposely look for mediocre pilots who will provide the same, poor level of service and quality our passengers have come to expect.”

– “Cardinal Birkhahn, the College of Cardinals has never interviewed a more pious, humble or forward-thinking papal candidate. And your choice in sweaters is unparalleled. But, we need someone who will undo the decisions made by our most recent leader, and keep his mind firmly fixed in the 14th century.”

So, how about you? Do you know of any firm in any industry that lost a sales pitch because it was simply too well-qualified? If so, please share the news. Misery loves company.

Mar 18

What you hear may not be what you get

imasssgesDon Spetner, a senior corporate adviser with Weber Shandwick and the former CCO and CMO of Korn/Ferry International pens a must read column in each, and every, monthly issue of PR Week.

In his most recent one, he regales the reader with a variety of tales from the corporate and agency world in which executives who were promised one title and one set of responsibilities were, instead, given a very different mandate (one with less power and greater risk of failure).

Spetner cites his own situation when he labored at Nissan. At the time, he reported to the head of North America operations. But, one day, the CEO of sales and marketing took him to lunch and told Don it was “…now your job to convince senior management that communications needed to report to sales and marketing instead.” Spetner refused, and the CEO proceeded to make Don’s life miserable for the next two years.

He also shared the story of a friend of his who heads communications for a very large financial services firm. This poor guy reports to the CEO, but is caught right smack in the middle of a power struggle between the CEO and chairman. If Spetner’s friend pleases the CEO, he gets crucified by the chairman, and vice versa. He plays through that pain every single day (Note: in my opinion, life’s far too short to be miserable).

I can relate to these stories. I was twice told I would have full responsibility for, first, PR, in one integrated agency and later, full responsibility for running an entire division of JWT. In both cases, I ended up with lesser roles and needed to weave my way through political minefields.

The Spetner tale is must reading for any PR major in college. It’s also helpful for any PR professional making his or her way up the corporate or agency ladder.

Be VERY attentive to the offer being extended to you. And, never, ever accept a job that doesn’t spell out in excruciating detail both your title and responsibilities.

Even then, you’re still likely to find yourself caught in a living hell. It’s been said before and it will be said again: people quit people. They don’t quit organizations.

So, remember, what you hear may not be what you get. And, be prepared to play with pain if you do find yourself in an untenable situation. You may choose to do what Don did and ride out the tsunami. Or you, may decide to follow my course: bail on the bullsh*t that was being shoveled out at the big agencies, and start your own firm.”

Mar 17

‘The Meaning of Life’

1588162613Eight years ago, one of our vendors gave me a coffee table book to congratulate Peppercomm (and me) for marking our 10th anniversary.

The book was called, ‘The Meaning of Life: Wit, Wisdom and Wonder from 65 Extraordinary People.’ I remember quickly scanning it and then doing with it what I always do with coffee table books: I put it on my coffee table.

I spotted it a few weeks back and, for some reason, it attracted my attention. So, I picked it up, read a few pages and couldn’t put it down until I’d finished.

Each page contained some celebrity’s, business leaders or sports legend’s personal take on the meaning of life.

Some of it was crap. Some of it was obvious. But, some of it was also spell-binding, especially the words of those who have since passed. To wit:

– “It’s astonishing. All in the name of God; the Inquisition, the Conquest; the Crusades; even the Japanese Kamikaze pilots.” The late Peter Boyle, character actor.

– “If you came back here in ten years, I expect that I’d walk to the door to greet you.” The late Christopher Reeve.

– “A sense of humor is rare. It isn’t telling a joke about how there are three ways to get to heaven. It’s being in a restaurant, and hearing someone say, ‘Everyone’s got their tale of woe,’ and then turning around and saying, “Unfortunately, in life, there’s more woe than tail.” The late Rodney Dangerfield.

– “You better live every day like it’s your last day, ’cause one day you’re gonna be right.” The late Ray Charles.

I’m not sure I could have appreciated ‘The Meaning of Life’ eight years ago but, man, some of it really hits home today.

I’d recommend this coffee table book for PR and image professionals in particular since we’re all about trying to figure out how a client’s product, service or organization gives some semblance of meaning to life.

At the same time, though, I’m not sure a Millennial or GenXer will appreciate the subtle nuances as much as someone who’s reached ‘…a certain age.’

Of course, I’ve been wrong about many things before so, maybe, this is THE book every Millennial needs to help her figure out what this crazy world in which we all live is all about.

Mar 14

Floating from the city

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Dan Salazar.

floatation-tankNearly a year ago my friend from Florida urged me to try something called sensory deprivation floating. He told me it was a powerful experience that changed him for the better.

Essentially it’s a coffin-like pod filled with 10 inches of salty water (1,000 pounds of salt in 200 gallons of water) where you lay completely void of any sensory input, naked. The point is to get out of your regular routine of sensory distraction and be forced to confront yourself.

Last week I decided to give it a shot. I went online and found a spa-like place “where expertise and quality care meet”. As soon as I arrived at the center I realized it was nothing like I saw online. My float attendant didn’t seem to be too familiar with floating at all. When she took me up to the second floor of what I found out was a physical therapy office, she revealed to me that the float tank was located in the employee break room – online they called it a locker room. It seemed as if they just happened to have a tank in this location as opposed to building the office around it.

My friend’s attendant gave him a 20-minute chat about different breathing techniques, and told him exactly what to expect…while drinking tea. He said it was obvious the guy floated a lot himself. I had none of that.

Most of my first time was spent getting comfortable, figuring out what to do with my hands and trying not to hit the sides of the pod. All of which could have been mitigated if explained to me prior to my float. I ended up having a positive experience only because, there and only there, the only person in charge of my float experience was me. That said, next week I’ll happily spend an additional $10 to be at a real spa with real experts.