Aug 08

Do Peppercommers agree that PR is becoming a pink ghetto?

RepTV Co-hosts Paul Merchan and Steve Cody discuss the increasing ‘feminization’ of PR that was highlighted in a recent New York Magazine article.

Are there too many young white females in our field? And, what are the long-term implications?
Peppercommers Samantha Bruno and Nick Gilyard provide their views with Paul and Steve in a fast-paced, no holds barred RepTV episode. So take a look and we’re REALLY anxious for your comments…



Aug 07

What would you do?

qqqqqqIt’s every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. A call has just come in from Wiley E. Coyote, CMO of the Acme Rocket Company, your largest client. Acme’s billings represent 50 percent of your total business. Gulp. You tell your personal assistant to put Mr. Coyote’s call through to your line.

Sure enough, it’s bad news. Coyote wants global representation, and is moving his entire account to one of those nameless, faceless holding agencies. A letter officially informing you of 30-days written notice will arrive by FedEx later in the day.

After your life flashes before your eyes, you set the phone back down in its cradle and wonder, ‘Now what’?

Well, in the case of Cary, NC-based IgniteSocial, CEO Jim Tobin took swift, decisive and highly controversial action.

He not only immediately fired 50 percent of the firm’s 110 employees, he also offered to pay any agency that hired one of his outcasts $5,000 if they didn’t cut it within the first 90 days of employment.

That’s a novel approach to be sure, but it’s not what I’d do.

Having been through several lay-offs, downsizings, rightsizings, adjustments or whatever euphemism you’d like to substitute for firings, I can tell you they’re no fun.

In nearly 20 years of business, we’ve only had to downsize two or three times. The first came in the aftermath of the technology bubble burst in 2000, and the other occurred a few years ago when, like IgniteSocial, we lost our biggest client to a global competitor.

But, we’ve always taken a different tack in managing Peppercomm:

1.) We never, ever, let one client dominate our billings. It’s beyond risky to allow one client (Note: It was Chrysler in Ignite’s case) to account for 50 percent of the firm’s billings. That’s just asking for trouble.

I believe our largest clients represent 15 to 18 percent, respectively, of our total billings.

2.) As a result, should one of those clients decide to up and leave, we’re not left in a Defcon 5 situation in which half of our staff needs to be let go immediately.

3.) I wouldn’t offer a $5,000 guarantee that all 50 of my recently-fired employees will excel in their new gigs. Instead, I’d take that $250,000 and disburse it among the four or five top performers among the Chrysler 50. I’d hang onto that talent.

4.) I wouldn’t publicize my fire sale. Sure, CEO Jim Tobin comes across as a nice guy in the Adweek feature, but his announcement is akin to Captain Smith of the RMS Titanic’s announcing a sale on deck chairs after striking the berg. It reeks of desperation and inspires fear.

5.) The Ignite announcement will scare remaining clients and employees alike that the agency isn’t long for this world, and that they should follow Chrysler’s tracks and select a new agency (or employer).

I wish IgniteSocial, Jim Tobin and the recently downsized Chrysler 50 well in the future. But, in my opinion, this whole disaster has been badly bungled from the get-go. But, hey, that’s just my opinion.

What would you do if Wiley E. Coyote was on hold, and just champing at the bit to lower the boom on your agency?

Aug 06

Golf’s Oldsmobile Moment

51dDgnQre7L._SY300_Guess what year the powers-that-be at GM finally decided to retire the legendary Oldsmobile? If you guessed 2004, you’d be correct. And, the reason they did so was bleak, if direct: their aging target market was dying off in droves. So, there was no one left to buy an Olds.

Now, wager a guess what year golf will follow Oldsmobile’s tracks and disappear as a mainstream hobby? (Please note I did NOT use the word ‘sport’ to describe what is, in effect, nothing more strenuous than a walk in the park).

If you guessed 2050 to the second question, you may not be far off. That’s because, as the New York Times reported yesterday, and I confirmed with an informal, internal Peppercomm survey, Millennials are bored silly by golf. And, most Boomers will be gone by 2050.

The Times feature says all of the obvious things about golf and Millennials:

– Golf eats up far too much time (make that far too much precious free time.)
– Golf is a slow-moving game with few, if any, thrills (“Gee Thurston, what an interesting sand dune!”)
– Golf is a hobby that requires constant practice in order to master (think: backgammon.)
– Millennials do NOT want to devote their free time to walking around a park on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons hitting a tiny white ball and waiting for a group of Boomers on the next green to sink their putts.
– Millennials grew up in a completely wired world and, in order to play golf, one needs to be off the grid. That’s been known to cause severe allergic reactions in many a Millennial.

And, sure as a boring golf tournament being aired on a Sunday afternoon network, my informal survey of Peppercomm Millennials confirmed ALL of my suspicions (as well as those of the Old Gray Lady):

– Of the 33 people in our New York office under the age of 30, who replied to my query, only five played golf! Five! That’s 18 percent, and that spells trouble with a capital T, and that most certainly does not stand for tee (as in golf tee).

Like other embattled sports such as the NFL and NHL, in which parents are refusing to let their kids play those uber violent pastimes, the PGA and leading golf courses ARE doing their best to modernize.

Some, for example, are actually providing Wi-Fi on the back nine (“Um, like, just wait on taking your putt, Buffy, OK? I’m, like, getting a text from Curt about where we’ll be hooking up on the 18th hole.”).

Others are encouraging night golf for Millennial corporate outings in which the golf balls are lighted up. Wow! Still others are holding Frisbee-tossing contests on fabled courses.

And, others are dramatically lowering fees and introducing 3-D imaging for the few Millennials actually interested in improving their backswings.

None of it will work of course. And, that’s because golf is a SLOW-AS-MOLASSES game and the younger generation is replete with adrenaline junkies looking for the next, new shiny object to fill their next nanosecond (confession time: I’ve always hated golf, have likened it to watching grass grow AND have always been attracted to faster-paced, physically challenging sports).

I’m guessing it won’t be too long before spying  a golf course along the Garden State Parkway will be just as rare as spotting a vintage Oldsmobile rumbling along in the right-hand lane. And, I can just imagine the conversation in the car:

– Gen Z’er in back seat: “Mommy, why is there a big, back yard over there with nobody living in it and full of weeds.”
– Gen X mom: “That’s a golf course, Wyoming Cheyenne. Your great grandfather, Thom, and his friends, used to play a game on those fields called golf.”
– Gen Z’er: “Mommy, Did golf have all sorts of dragons and knights and princesses and animals like my games?”
– Gen X mom: “Nope. Just a bunch of middle-aged, overweight white guys who eventually died off like Bambi and dear old grandpa Thom. That’s why the courses are now empty, honey.”

I cannot wait to see what else professional golf has up its sleeve as it defends what was once a big-time business.

It strikes me that, like so many other vestiges of the past, golf will soon fall prey to the 24×7, social media world in which we live.

So, who’s up for a 6am tee-time this Saturday? Anyone? Anyone at all? Bueller? Bueller, Jr,. Bueller, III?

Aug 05

Public Relations goes the way of the Edsel

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester.

jokes overWhat killed public relations? Lack of support from clients and marketers? Loss of trust from the journalistic community? Did advertising finally win its long battle for dollars PR fought desperately to win from marketers?

Ironically, it was none of the above yet in part, all of the above.

The already well-funded PR industry had been disparaging the advertising industry for years in its battle to win not just its share, but all marketing dollars. Winning that battle inadvertently lost the war. While gobbling up revenue from advertising and effectively shuttering their doors, the public relations industry destroyed the hand that fed it. Without advertiser’s dollars to support them, publishers were unable to support the lavish editorial environments that PR folks so loved populating with their brilliantly engaging audience experiences. As revenue plummeted, one by one, publications cut page after page as they were forced to cut budgets. Eventually, journalists had no space to place their stories and were forced into writing reality series and illustrated romance novels. In turn, trusted public relations professionals had no one to pitch their beloved stories to. And so it went until another industry was destroyed by its own need for greed.

The golden days when PR and advertising worked hand in hand to market for their clients ended when the last of the global marketers decided it had enough with busy executives overlooking their expensive ads. It tired of audiences passing at warp speed by their beautiful images of watches and jewelry, their demonstrations of financial security, their sexy images of fast cars and gorgeous fashion. Alas, PR convinced all that it held the only justifiable key to the secret of every marketer’s dream.

If only they could have realized that had they worked more closely together, if they had truly put their brilliant, individual skills to the test in one unified effort, they could have all survived. If every marketer’s campaign was based on a truly unique point of view, a truly individual voice that lived across all media, they could have all thrived.

Were there some bad apples in the advertising bunch? Of course, but this was not China 213 BC, where following the advice of minister Li Si, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin. This was followed by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals who didn’t comply with the state dogma.

Do you burn all ads because you don’t like to read a particular one or don’t relate to the pictures in another? Do you bury all advertising creatives unless they make words and pictures about something you agree with such as that particular mountain climbing gadget that someone person had been dreaming about. And what happens when you’ve tired of that gadget? Do you bury the poor saps after all?

Let’s all push for great ideas that live across all media. Ideas that engage because they create a dialogue with an audience at every touch point. Let us all work together for our marketing partners to replace the bad ideas with great ideas that are precision targeted to their audience.

Let’s do this well so we’re not all buried alive because of a few that are doing it badly. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Aug 04

Do you read print ads?

air2Every now and then, a print ad for a new piece of climbing gear will stop me in my tracks as I flip through the pages of The Alpinist.

Other times, a drop dead gorgeous print ad of a Ferrari or Lamborghini will make me apply the brakes as I downshift through the current GQ.

But, it hadn’t occurred to me until this morning, that I NEVER, EVER look at the print ads in either The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.

That’s a pretty bold statement considering a full page ad in either publication probably costs northward of $125,000.

And, judging by my fellow commuters, they’re not stopping to read the print ads in their Times, Journal, Post or Daily News either.

I think most of us have given up on advertising. We know it’s all fake, written by a corporation to try and get us to buy one of their products or services. It’s not news. It’s not editorial and, unless, it’s clearly marked as advertorial, most of it doesn’t contain any relevant, or objective, facts or figures.

Take today’s Times. Please!

The ads in the main section included:
1,) The usual jewelry and fashion quarter-page photos from Tiffany and Dior. Nice, but unless it’s V-Day or an anniversary, I move along at Mach speed.
2.) A half-page ad from iShares by BlackRock. In case you’re interested, an iShare is a core fund that costs one-third as much as your typical mutual fund, strengthens your portfolio AND saves your money. Yeah, sure. And Michael Vick will win this year’s humanitarian of the year award.
3.) A two-thirds page ad from the CME Group, whose motto is “How the world advances.” Seem to me Putin and Hamas could use their help at the moment. In fact, CME works with agriculture producers to manage risk. That’s good to know with fall harvest right around the corner.
4.) A half-page ad from the United Airlines Explorer Card. Seems to me it should be called the United Airlines Destroyer Card, since the airline has destroyed so many of my business and personal trips.
5.) The fifth, and final, ad is my favorite. It’s a full-page in length, and was paid for by Sonatrach. You know, the company that promises “achievements and commitments.” Yes, that Sonatrach. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Well, the Sonatrach ad appears as part of a two-page advertorial entitled, ‘Africa rising’.

Considering the Ebola news of late, I might have advised the Sonatrach folks to wait a generation or two before thumping their chests about achievements and commitments. Holy poor timing, Batman!

Anyway, you get my drift.

So, why does print advertising survive? Why do organizations continue to spend millions of dollars producing ads that no one reads, much less believes?

If only that very same money were to be diverted towards a public relations campaign, we’d be onto something. If nothing else, PR people would know better than to run a special section in the middle of a major Ebola breakout.

There’s dumb. And then, there are the advertising folks from T Brand Studio who, at the bottom of the Africa rising advertorial, claim credit for its creation. Maybe they can explain why so many otherwise intelligent people still shell out millions of dollars for print ads no one will read?

Aug 01

Amy, Have you ever considered becoming a welder?”

welderTired of prospects who never return calls, clients who don’t provide direction or bosses who drop 10 pounds’ worth of work on your desk at 5pm? Well, perhaps, welding is the answer. Or carpentry. Or plumbing for that matter.

I mention those crafts because, get this, the National Center for Construction Education and Research (or, the NCCER, if you prefer) has just launched a recruiting campaign aimed at video gamers and, yes, Virginia, white collar workers. The multi-year campaign is entitled, ‘Build your future.’ Clever double entendre, no?

The trade group’s spokesperson says the campaign’s goal is to both correct misperceptions about, say, welding AND attract gamers and knowledge workers who already possess great eye-hand coordination.

“The joysticks used on cranes are identical to those used in, say, Mortal Kombat. And, because they played video games for so long, Millennials are ideal candidates to become mobile crane operators,” says L.J. Zielke, president of Allied Career Training, an apprenticeship program for crane operator wanna-be’s. Gee, how did I not make that obvious connection?

So, what’s driving the big construction industry recruiting initiative? Young people simply don’t want to work in a job they see as both dirty and backbreaking. (BTW, I know a few PR firms that have been described the same way.) Hence the re-branding, re-positioning and marketing campaign.

And, get this: there’s even an outreach aimed at young women by the Women Construction Owners and Executives (or, WCOE, if you prefer). “Construction is where it’s at right now,” proclaimed WCOE’s Lee Cunningham. “We make good money and work regular hours.” Plus, they get to wear those way cool, Star Wars-type helmets with the attached visors.

Somehow, I think the construction and welding fields might have issues attracting most women to a field that is notorious for grimy, greasy, older guys who whistle and shout catcalls at every female who passes by on the street. But, hey, what do I know? Besides, says Cunningham, the various trade groups are providing mentoring programs for young women and, get this, male construction workers are embracing the changing gender ratio. Yeah, sure. And, there will be peace in the Middle East by September 1st.

Still, it’s fascinating to see an old-line, rust belt profession like construction try to freshen up its image.

That said, making construction, welding and plumbing look sexy to smart, gaming Millennials is akin to building a new Mt. Rushmore.

I just can’t picture the day when our superstar senior account executive, John Doe, walks into my office, closes the door, sits down and announces, “Steve, I’ve loved every minute of my time at Peppercomm but, truth be told, I’m dying to operate a crane. So, I’ll be joining Sal & Paulie’s Construction Company as a trainee this coming Monday.”

One final note: if the construction industry can reinvent itself, who else might follow suit:
– Taxidermists
– Shepherds
– Bricklayers
– Toll booth operators?

The potential is enormous. And, if I were Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms, I’d worry less about losing talented PR employees to our colleagues at advertising and digital agencies and focus, instead, on combating the appeal of that welding gig outside her Park Avenue office. It’s quite possible our best and brightest may soon be building high-rises instead of clients’ image and reputation.