Aug 27

A very classy move

Secret Weapon Marketing Letter

It’s no secret that we live in a trash-talking, backstabbing, what’s in it for me society. From The Donald and Jerry Springer to the average NFL player and Hollywood starlet, the public discourse abounds in mudslinging, muckraking and meanness.

All of which makes a recent advertisement from an agency called Secret Weapon Marketing unique and laudable.

The ad is a variation on the legendary “Dear John” letter (Note to Millennials: Suggest you reference Wikipedia for a definition).

Entitled “Goodbye Jack,” the ad is an open letter from Secret Weapon’s CEO to his now former client of 20 years, Jack in the Box.

The text is brilliant. It not only points out the many successes of the relationship, but reminisces about extra special moments. It’s also refreshing in oh-so-many ways:

  • It demonstrates class at a moment in time when the average agency CEO would be bitching
  • It personalizes what was a purely business relationship (thereby shining the light on what must be a very special culture at Secret Weapon)
  • By listing the 20-year campaign’s multiple successes, the ad subtly, but credibly, alerts Jack in the Box competitors that Secret Weapon can, in fact, be their secret weapon for success

I applaud Rick Sittig, SW’s founder and creative director, for taking the high road (however diabolically clever the strategy may have been).

I also wonder if anyone from Jack in the Box will respond in kind by publicly thanking SW? Nah. That would be akin to Megyn Kelly running an ad in The Wall Street Journal thanking Trump for elevating her status from talking head to semi-serious reporter.

Aug 25

Hillary’s downward spiral


If I were a betting man, I’d guess the very same people who are advising New Jersey Transit are counseling Hillary Clinton as she continues to not only avoid discussing the 30,000 missing e-mails from her personal account, but makes light of the entire subject.

I can think of other high-profile types who either ignored a crisis, denied it ever happened or, like Hillary, made light of it (Think: Lance Armstrong, that Lululemon nut job of a CEO, Jeff Skilling, Barry Bonds, Dennis Kozlowski, etc.).

Hillary’s 30,000 missing e-mails are the modern day equivalent of Rosemary Woods and her “accidentally” erasing 18-plus minutes of President Nixon’s White House recordings (note to Millennials: Google “Watergate” for more details).

In my mind, Hillary’s already destroyed her chances of returning to the Oval Office.

Had she come clean on Day One, admitted the mistake, turned over the e-mails, etc., she’d still have a shot in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Alas, as is the case with NJT and their daily delays and cancellations, Hillary neither apologized nor provided an explanation. Instead, with her snide Snapchat quip, Hill reinforced a perception that, deep down, she carries a serious chip on her shoulder.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Secretary Clinton’s self-immolation is the frightening prospect of a Trump-Biden showdown in 2016. That’s when I start seriously considering Canadian citizenship.

Until then, keep on sending in the clowns.

Aug 24

Back in the high life again

new high res hiking







For reasons I won’t bore you with, I was compelled to take a year-long hiatus from climbing and stand-up comedy. In my case, it was akin to a heroin-user going cold turkey.

Since I identify myself as a climber, comedian and dog-lover in my LinkedIn, Twitter and FB biographies, it hurt big-time to lose two of those three loves. It also did a number on my self-image (hence the relevance of today’s blog).

Happily, that was then and this is now.

In the last month alone, I’ve climbed in New Hampshire and The Gunks (rock-climbing’s answer to Mecca). I also have an especially rugged trip in northern Maine scheduled for next week.

And, much to the chagrin of Greenwich Village Comedy Club patrons, I’ve returned to the stage, and am once again living up to my personal motto of: Expect Less.

I suppose this holds true in most cases, but having temporarily lost two of my passions in life, it is beyond cool to be re-engaging with each. I’m back in the high-life again. And my Donald Trump-like self-image is alive and well.



Aug 20

The Burgeoning Buzz on Big Data: What It Is and How to Use It

Today’s guest RepMan is by Peppercommer Jeffrey Cipriano.

13efab3bigdataBuzzword. It’s a term we’ve all heard before. These words are very popular for a short time, but have very little meaning – words like “synergy”, “disruptive marketing”, or “Donald Trump”.

But there is one buzzword that deserves the ubiquity, even if the meaning eludes people: “big data” (OK, make that two words). When I tell people I work with big data at Peppercomm, it inspires reverential ooooohs because it’s apparently a Very Important Job. People know big data is trendy – it is a big buzzword, after all – but they don’t know what it is.

But while big data may be hard to define, it is easy to understand – and more importantly, it may be useful for your business strategy. Simply put, big data is a term that describes very large unstructured data sets (go figure, what’s in a name and all that) from a large series of sources. It can sometimes be terabytes of data that requires open-source software and massive storage, or it can simply be large data sets from multiple different sources. In my world, these can include media monitoring tools, data from surveys, SEO, etc.

So much conversation around big data is on these data sources, as opposed to something else essential to using the data correctly: human analysis. Without that element, the data you’ve aggregated is just text and statistics without context. So, here are some quick tips for those willingly to get down with data, and to get the best out of it:

1. Know what you’re looking for. It’s like the old Scientific Method from 4th grade, where you have 2 or 3 steps before you can light things on fire: think of questions you want answered and ways that you might be able to answer them. Be careful with your process planning – many clients assume certain ideas to be facts, and this belief gets in the way of the insights that will benefit their business. My team always says that the most dangerous words at work are, “Well, we think we know…” Data can say something different than what your gut or intuition says, so it’s important to reflect on the context of your client’s question.

2. Define your search. Start with where you want to look, and always work from specific to narrow – both in the sense of your search context and what data streams you’re using. There is a lot of free data out there you can use, but just having lots of data doesn’t make it a useful resource. There are tools that can help structure your data set, and analytic skills that can help you find the exact data to answer your query, which come from working in the data and understanding it. Which brings us to…
3. Find actionable insight. Similar to how many PR pieces include a call to action, many of the insights I seek are ones that inspire some kind of response from a client. A PhD researcher from Massey University investigated this in a recent study, on how big data influences strategic decision-making. In my world, it’s not just about aggregating media mentions and showing the coverage landscape – it’s about finding opportunities to represent our client in a better light, and contextualizing positive or negative moments.
Big data is a burgeoning field, and there’s room for great innovation and application in the world of communications. But it’s important to remember that the data is only as good as the questions you ask of it, and the human analysis you put into it. Otherwise, it’s just another trendy buzzword.

Aug 19

Art for Art’s Sake

directorI recently participated in a client kick-off meeting attended by the advertising agency folks with whom we’d be sharing the account.

While not in the same league as Sterling, Cooper, the ad firm has been around since William Howard Taft’s administration and was notable for having created some of the more memorable campaigns of the past 50 years.

The new client asked each agency to give a quick overview and share relevant work.

The ad firm’s creative director went first.

Blessed with the voice of God, he reverently reviewed his firm’s pedigree, epoch-making campaigns of the past and ended with a flourish by proudly proclaiming how many Gold Lions the agency had just won at the most recent Cannes Festival (Madison Avenue’s answer to the Academy Awards).

When he finished, I felt as if I’d just listened to Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg or Stanley Kubrick wax poetic about the role of beauty in storytelling.

We went next. Disdaining a PowerPoint, we quickly explained our background, cut to the chase in demonstrating how well we knew the client’s target audience and immediately shared ways in which to engage with the audience.

The two presentations were as different as night and day.

In retrospect, I witnessed first-hand what I’d experienced for the past several decades:

– Ad agencies create content to win awards
– PR firms create content that engages audiences in conversations that will position the client as a natural fit in their personal or professional lives.

And, therein lies the difference. We’re not creating work to impress other creative directors from around the world. We’re pushing boundaries, engaging stakeholders and building a client’s business.

While the walls between our two disciplines are indeed crumbling, you won’t find Spielberg-like divas at PR firms (present company excluded, of course).

Art for art’s sake no longer cuts it.

Aug 12

My night in night court

kangaroo-court-1I spent last night pleading a recent traffic violation in Middletown, NJ’s, handsomely appointed night courtroom. My offense? Allowing my registration to lapse for a month.

The hour-long experience was entertaining, if not surreal.

Before entering the courtroom, I first had to pass through three separate security checkpoints, including one that featured a thorough pat-down. I appreciated the extra security procedures knowing how dangerous traffic violators can be.

Once in the courtroom, I was thoroughly entranced by the tales of woe told by my fellow lawbreakers. To wit:

Judge: “Says here Mr. Martinez that you’re just now responding to a violation that occurred in 1993. Been on several around-the-world cruises since then?”
Witness: “No your honor. Doing time.”
Judge: “Prison time?”
Witness: “Yes.”
Judge: “20 years? What did you do?”
Witness: “Oh, lifted weights, worked in the library and laundry rooms….”
Judge (growing increasingly agitated): “No, no. What was your crime?”
Witness: “Three separate counts of armed robbery.”
Judge: “Do tell? Well, you’ve paid your dues to society. No need to worry about a 22-year-old speeding ticket. Case dismissed.”

There were some other cool cases as well: One included a guy who had managed to collect three speeding tickets in a single day. Judge’s comment, “You must have been in some kind of hurry that day. License suspended for six months. Next?”

Then, there was the woman who protested her speeding ticket. She insisted she was driving below the legal limit AND had a passenger/witness to verify her story.

Judge: “So, you’re telling me your passenger was actually watching your speedometer as you drove past a digital radar gun that is 100 percent accurate?” The witness nodded. Judge: “Well, that’s a physical impossibility. But, I admire your creativity, so I’ll only put two points on your record.”

When my turn came, the judge didn’t even look up.

Judge: “Driving with an expired registration, Mr. Cody?”
Me: “Yes, your honor.”
Judge: “Were you involved in an accident?”
Me: “No, your honor.”
Judge: “Pay the $89 fine and good luck to you.”

Talk about theatre of the absurd.

Nonetheless I went home and slept soundly knowing that Middletown’s finest were making the world a little bit safer by dragging in miscreants like me and making us pay for our transgressions.

Suggested tag line for MPD?

“Wasting your time to ensure our safety”

Aug 11

The Question

i-mustache-you-a-questionDon Spetner, who serves as a senior corporate adviser with Weber Shandwick, also happens to author the most insightful content published in PR Week’s monthly issue.

His most recent column is entitled, “When the boss asks you ‘the question.’

Spetner referred to the moment in time that most of us face at some point in our careers: a new CEO has taken over, and asks you to provide an honest assessment of your peer’s strengths and weaknesses.

As Spetner notes, it’s an extremely delicate situation requiring a combination of authenticity and political savvy.

I was asked the question exactly one week after being named president of a moribund (and now defunct) company within the J. Walter Thompson empire.

On my first day of work, the CEO strolled into my lavishly appointed office, plunked down the biographies of all 70 employees and told me he’d like to discuss each, and every one four days hence. He suggested I use the time in-between to meet all 70 professionals.

And, so I did drive-by meetings over the next 96 hours, and walked into the CEO’s office for the discussion. That’s when he asked the question, “Which ones will you fire?” I was stunned to say the least.

The CEO smirked and added, “Look, the JWT people want us to trim the workforce by 15 percent within the next 30 days. Since I’ll be retiring soon (he finally did so a decade later), this is now your problem. I’ll expect your recommendations on Monday.” He then laughed at my predicament and sauntered into the hallway.

Talk about Sophie’s Choice! I was expected to fire 10 people I knew next to nothing about. It was unfair but indicative of many cutthroat corporate cultures.

I agonized all weekend long.

On Monday morning, I walked into the CEO’s office, and said, “There’s no way I can make an informed decision in so short a period of time. Oh, and by the way, how come you never mentioned the downsizing when you were wining-and-dining me to come on board as your successor?”

Needless to say, he didn’t like my response, said he worried if I was tough enough to ever become the CEO and fired those hapless souls himself later that day.

I left the firm 15 months later to launch Peppercomm.

So, that was my moment dealing with the question.

What was yours? I’d love to hear any and all stories and will judge your CEO worthiness based upon the anecdote.

Aug 06

Clients care far more about their careers than they do about their brand

Those aren’t my words. They belong to Robb High, a highly successful industry consultant.

Robb made that provocative statement in answering the question: What goes on when clients discuss which agency to select?

Check out his video. It’s worth watching.

High believes prospective clients aren’t interested in the big idea when evaluating prospective agency partners. Rather, he says, they seek consensus. So, while they may ask you to present “game-changing” ideas, what the client really wants is an agency that all of the decision-makers can live with. High says new business pitches are, in reality, job interviews.

Consensus is key because, says High, clients are more concerned with their careers than they are about their brands. As a result, they won’t select any agency that presents an idea that might undermine the work being done by one or more of the client decision-makers.

When clients meet to discuss and select a winner, one will inevitably say, “I can live with any agency except BottomFeeder. There’s no way they can do my job better than me.” As a result, the client will select the “safest” agency.

I agree and disagree with High. Sure, we’ve lost pitches to other agencies and, in the post mortem, were told we were either “Too strategic,” “Too edgy” or “Too far ahead in what can be accomplished in the near future.” Translated into English, the prospect’s told us we either alienated, or scared, one of the key decision-makers in the room.

At the same time, though, we’ve won big accounts by being edgy and presenting a big idea.

Prospects are like snowflakes. No two are alike. High’s right in saying many will choose an agency that won’t rock the boat or put their jobs in jeopardy. But, there are just as many forward-looking CCO’s and CMO’s who are willing to take risks and do want a game-changing idea.

The challenge lies in knowing beforehand whether the prospect is risk-friendly or risk-averse. And, alas, that, too, is a guessing game since many prospects say one thing when they really mean the exact opposite. And so it goes.

Aug 04

We are family


I’ve waxed poetic about the multiple team-building and culture enhancement attributes of stand-up and improvisational comedy. But, I have to tell you, rock, ice and mountain climbing easily qualify as the outdoor cousin of stand-up.

This past weekend, I was joined by two Peppercommers for a three-day excursion in northern New Hampshire. On day one, Nicole Newby, Catharine Cody and this blogger ascended the nine-pitch, 1,200 ft. high White Horse Mountain (see pic).

climbing 1qqqqqqqqqqThe second day saw us attacking single, and multi-pitch, vertical climbs at Rumney (which is easily one of the top climbing destinations in the East).

We wrapped up the three-day weekend by summiting 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast.

Climbing is unique from other sports in many ways:

  • It’s not competitive. Climbers support and even root for one another’s success
  • It’s a body and mind cleanse. In addition to pushing one’s body to the absolute max, climbing demands total concentration. Hence, it’s impossible to think about a client putting their account up for review, a newly-hired employee going rogue or any of the business world’s other nasty little surprises
  • One inevitably learns new, and interesting, things about fellow employees since, like comedy, the team experiences the highest highs and lowest lows at the same time.

In short, fellow climbers become quasi family members. And we bring back a new sense of esprit de’corps to the workplace. Nicole and Catharine have climbed with me previously, as have Peppercommers Deivis Baez and Matt Purdue.

It may sound scary, climbing is anything but (especially when one is led by Art Mooney of

While comedy has been the catalyst that’s enabled us to win awards, forge a unique culture and attract the very best employees and clients, I believe climbing could achieve the same end result. As we say on the slopes, “Climb on.”