Mar 25


Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody.

catAs Christians prepare to celebrate the holiest holiday of the year, I am preparing my body for a trip to St. Lucia with two of my best friends. How am I getting in swimsuit shape? Yoga. That’s why I was shocked to hear that one school in Georgia banned the word “Namaste.”

Parents in Georgia say that yoga is a religious practice, and if their kids can’t say the pledge of allegiance, they shouldn’t practice yoga.

Yoga is not a religious practice. It’s about channeling your breathing, energy and mind in order to destress the body from daily minutia of everyday problems.

I was hooked on yoga from my very first class. Yoga helps you focus on breathing, so you can train your mind to forget about your problems, and just simply be in the moment.

As a PR executive, I am constantly on.  I respond to emails starting at 7am and do not fully unplug until about 8pm. I am always worried about upcoming launches, new stories to pitch, how to reach reporters in new ways and staying on top of my email.

Once I discovered yoga, however, I learned that just through breathing and focusing on one task at a time, I could destress myself.

Sure, one of my instructors once told me to push my psychic energy to someone “who needed it.” But, the key thing here is, yoga does not push religion. You can use it as a part of your religious practice, but you can also use it as a way to calm your mind and body.  And, that’s why I practice it.

So, when Georgia banned the word “Namaste” from class, they essentially banned a technique to help kids naturally destress and decompress. In today’s 24/7 world where we’re constantly connected to some sort of device, it’s absolutely critical that we learn to unplug and just breathe.
Thank you for reading this blog, and may you all have a peaceful weekend. Namaste.



Mar 24

The Irish May Have Gotten Lucky, but the Jacks Won Big

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer, and proud SFA alum, Nicole Newby (pictured bottom left.)7682_10154645497384606_8277511644762759839_n

I’ve never been so downtrodden after a sporting event than when the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks lost by one point to the Fighting Irish with 1.5 seconds to go in the game that would have advanced them to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time. (And that’s saying something. I experience a lot of heartbreak as a Cowboys fan.)

However, despite the team’s loss on the court, the university won the public relations jackpot. They were the Cinderella team that everyone was rooting for, even if they had to leave the ball a little early. This catapulted the university into the national spotlight that was invaluable for SFA’s overall image and reputation.

  • Commentators finally started correctly referring to the school as Stephen F. Austin or SFA, instead of S.F. Austin—a huge branding victory.
  • The Lumberjacks ranked third out of 64 teams for the most viewed social media platformsand number one in most engagement on Facebook, according to SFA professor Jason Reese. He said that after their win against WVU, their Facebook page gained 6,000 likes. This is pretty significant considering the sizes of the universities involved. SFA enrolls about 12,000 students, which is small in comparison to other March Madness players– UNC has about 30,000 students, Temple has over 37,000, and Michigan has over 43,000.
  • Nearly every major outlet covering March Madness wrote about them, including ESPN, USA Today, CBS Sports, New York Post, Elite Daily, and many more.
  • Shaquille O’Neill tweeted about SFA’s star player, Thomas Walkup. USA Today also wrote a piece about him and his Lumberjack-esque beard, another great branding moment on the court. He also appeared on Sirius XM’s College Sports Nation after the Notre Dame loss.
  • People who saw me wearing my “Kickin’ Axe” t-shirt started asking me details about the school, including where it was located and what it was like. The SFA pride that came through on my Facebook newsfeed was also unlike anything I had ever seen, even when I was a current student there.
  • And then there was the Stone Cold Steve Austin association and promoting the Lumberjack’s resiliency.

No marketing budget could have paid for this kind of exposure, but SFA is just one example of the universities that have benefitted from March Madness off the court. The IBTimes reported that Florida Gulf Coast University’s Cinderella story in 2013 inspired a 39 percent jump in applications the
following year, and George Mason University experienced a 54 percent spike after the 2006 NCAA tournament, along with a 52 percent increase on their alumni registry. Virginia Commonwealth University produced its highest royalty total in its history after the team made it to the Final Four.

Furthermore, investing in athletic programs that make it to the national spotlight has directly impacted university applications. A recent study from Douglas J. Chung found that when a college athletic team goes from good to great, undergraduate applications increase dramatically. However, it is up to the schools’ marketing teams to leverage that initial attention into a long-term branding opportunity.

Dallas Law said it best in his piece in Elite Daily: “In less than 48 hours, between Friday’s tip-off and Sunday’s, the majority of the nation had gone from thinking SFA was an airport to rooting for the Jacks…The unfamiliarity of SFA and Nacogdoches has certainly changed. Lumberjacks aresome of the strongest, friendliest, smartest, most determined and most respectful individuals…The SFA men’s basketball team showed the entire nation just that.”


Mar 21

A systemic problem with a ready-made answer


Every spring, I think of three things:

– Flora, Fauna and Merryweather (inside joke for you Disney cartoon aficionados)

– The Chicago Cubs futile pursuit of a World Series title

– The travesty that is the PR industry awards programs

I was reminded of the latter when a friend posted a FB pic of her happily judging the Silver Anvil awards. After complimenting her on her provocative, new eyeglasses, I asked if the categories she judged were, once again, dominated by entries from two or three large agencies.

She replied with a resounding “Yes!” and went on to add that one category she judged contained 18 entries, 15 of which came from global powerhouses.

That’s par for the course, whether the awards’ sponsor is the PRSA (@PRSA), PR Week (@PRWeekUS), The Holmes Report (@holmesreport) or PR News (@prnews).

The categories are ALWAYS dominated by the aircraft carriers because each program charges the same price for a single entry (typically in the neighborhood of $895 a pop).

That sort of loot is a mere drop in the bucket for, say, an Edelman, FH or Weber Shandwick. And so, they flood each, and every, category with five, six or more entries.

But, that same $895 puts a real dent in a midsized agency’s annual marketing budget.  As a result, firms such as mine are limited to only submitting three or four entries to each program. And for most small firms, the cost is simply prohibitive to submit anything at all.

The end result is an uneven playing field that favors the big guys at the expense of the small (something that would absolutely burn the Bern).

I’m not suggesting the judges aren’t completely objective in their assessments of each entry, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if, say, Ketchum has submitted eight entries while Burson has sent six, and all 14 are in the very same category, the odds are pretty good one of them will win.

Indeed, I’ve attended countless awards shows in which three of the five finalists were all from the same agency. That’s criminal.

But, it could be easily adjusted with tiered pricing:

– Charge small firms $100 per entry

– Make Peppercomm-type midsized agencies pay $500

– And continue to force the big boats to fork over $895

The result would be far more entries from a wider cross section of agencies. Ah, but that will never happen.

Why? Economics, that’s why. The industry organizations and media properties make a mint on the money pouring in from the large agencies. And once a large agency is told it has 27 finalists in the big show, they’ll go ahead and purchase 15 tables at a cool $10,000 a pop. That’s big, big bucks for a small trade publication.

As for the big agencies, they live, eat and breathe winning awards, and will stock their lobbies with enough faux gold and silver trophies to make the guards at Fort Knox jealous.

And, so, like the daffodils in spring, the PR industry awards programs have the same look, smell and taste of the year before.

It’s really a shame that, say, the PR Council doesn’t step-in and suggest changes to the broken awards’ system. In fact, they’d be best qualified to do so since the Council charges fees based upon the billings of a member agency.

I hope to live long enough to see this systemic problem fixed. I also hope to live to see the Cubbies finally win a World Series. Alas, I fear I’ll be pushing up daisies before either occurs.



Mar 17

Note to Millennials: You’re not worth it

Bob Hoffman, the self-proclaimed ‘ad contrarian’ says marketers are making a huge mistake in their obsession to outspend and out-think one another in connecting with the white hot Millennial target audience.

Speaking at a conference called “Shift 2016”, Hoffman said the following: “People over 50 years of age are responsible for 50 percent of all the spending in the U.S., and yet marketers allocate only 10 percent of their budgets to reaching this well-heeled group.”

He went on to say, “In the U.S., people aged 75 to dead buy six times more cars as people aged 16 to 24.” Hoffman said the reason brands of all types are laser-focused on reaching Millennials is because, well, all of their competitors are doing the same exact thing (think: Lemmings).

Hoffman is right and wrong. While he’s correct in saying we Boomers (and the last vestiges of the Greatest Generation) have far more disposable income, we’re also moving on to that great shopping mall in the sky (witness yesterday’s death of Frank Sinatra, Jr., at the relatively young age of 72).

So, it would be short-sighted, if not suicidal, for marketers to re-apportion their efforts to focus on the crowd.

That’s a win-lose, quarter-to-quarter strategy. So, while you may post record profits for the next five years or so, you’ll be left holding the bag down the road if you ignore next generation spenders.

And that, my friends, is the challenge we’re helping virtually every client try to figure out: How does one appeal to the deep-pocketed, 45-year-old mother of two in Jacksonville while simultaneously appearing authentic and personalized enough to appeal to her 21-year-old son about to graduate from Florida State?

It’s a delicate balancing act to be sure. But, I’d dismiss Hoffman’s comments as being borderline irrelevant (with the sole exception being Big Pharma, which markets more new drugs for more newly discovered 50-plus ailments than NJ Transit racks up daily delays).

So, fear not Millennials. We 50-plus, lemming-like marketers don’t think you’re worthless. We just don’t want to alienate Grandpa Ed while we’re finding genuine ways in which to become part of your consideration set.

And a tip of the hat to Michael “Lounge Lizard” Dresner for the idea for this post.

Mar 15

Unreasonable leaders, 2.0

leadessrLet me begin by saying I neither work for Weber Shandwick nor am I paid to shill for WS consultant, Don Spetner.

I volunteer this information because Spetner happens to pen far and away the most interesting, entertaining and informative column in PR Week. In fact, his previous content has inspired at least four or five riffs from this blogger.

And yes, Virginia, Dandy Don has done it again.

In his latest cool, offbeat and unexpected column, Spetner reminisces about his long-ago relationship with Eli Broad, the CEO of two Fortune 500 corporations. The column is entitled, “Unreasonable leaders” and you can read it here in its entirety.

Spetner’s comments got me thinking that, as an agency guy, I’ve always reported to two classes of leaders: Those within my agency as well as the top dog at the client who paid our monthly retainer.

And, like everyone, I’ve reported to my share of the good, the bad and the ugly on both sides of the spectrum.

Spetner describes a reasonable leader as someone who makes an outrageous or idiotic demand (i. e. “We shouldn’t be pitching the Charlie Rose Show. Charlie should be begging us to have me appear as a guest.”). Note: That’s my illustration, not Don’s.

But, alas, like cancer, the word unreasonable has many permutations and mutations.

One of the most unreasonable clients for whom I ever toiled would never fit central casting’s selection: She was bright, smart as a whip and, to be 100 percent politically incorrect, “easy on the eyes.”

But, she turned out to be beyond reasonable in a completely unexpected way:

She had no clue how to clearly communicate exactly what she hoped to accomplish in her organization’s massive re-brand. I remember our numerous, 30-minute phone calls that I’d record to make sure I hadn’t missed a subtle nuance. But, after reviewing my notes and pouring over the transcript, I still came away, shaking my head, and thinking, “WTF did she just say?”

I even went to the extra effort of sending immediate follow-up memos summarizing what I intuited were key outcomes. These e-mails always went unanswered.

Desperate to solve the puzzle, I scheduled a call with the unreasonable client’s number two report. I asked how he had been able to unscramble her hieroglyphics, survive and, indeed, thrive. I’ll never forget his response: “Look, with Martha, you have one chance to fail. If she thinks you don’t understand her needs and can’t immediately act on them, you’re toast.”

Helpful, no?

Mercifully, divine providence interceded and another of Martha’s direct reports left the client organization and took us along. The unreasonable leader dilemma had been solved.

Quick afterword: not too long ago, I attended an industry event at which the unreasonable leader was being awarded a lifetime achievement award (no doubt for obfuscation).

At the end of her 30-minute monologue, the guy next to me gave me a nudge, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “I don’t know about you, but I didn’t understand a single thing she just said.”


Mar 14

Love in a sea of hate

6ed612eb-7aa2-4cd4-ab47-ac5a29536fb3I was delighted to read that a brand new Uber and Lyft competitor named Juno is about to enter the highly-competitive hail-a-car industry.

What makes the news so cool is that Juno has identified an increasingly growing white space that, I believe, more and more smart marketers will grab. I call it the love zone.

Unlike Uber, which could be likened to the Donald Trump of the industry, Juno will pay its drivers fairly and will insist drivers, in turn, provide a warm and fuzzy experience for passengers. How novel.

I can almost guarantee Juno’s success. That said, I may still short their stock if Trump wins the White House.

Joy, humor, comedy, call it what you will, is a making a major impact in more and more brands’ internal and external business models and communications plans.

The reason is simple: With hate and divisiveness fast becoming the watchwords of the day, consumers of all kinds are seeking to engage with brands that can make them smile, provide a nanosecond of joy and turn an otherwise dreary existence into something more.

My colleague, Jacqueline “Jacko” Kolek and I recently penned an opinion piece on the trend we headlined, “Joy Is the New Black.”

Marketers aren’t embracing love, joy, comedy and humor because they’re being nice guys. They’re doing it to humanize their brands and engage with audiences in more authentic ways. The Kolek/Cody article lists just a few, recent examples.

But, don’t take our word for it. Check out this recent article about major brands that are embracing comedy and humor to drive a joyous internal and external experience.

After viewing this past weekend’s horrific events at political rallies across the Midwest, it’s refreshing and, dare I say it, heartwarming, to see a start-up base its entire business model on love.

People like to quote the ancient Chinese proverb that reads, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” Here’s hoping Juno, and the other brands mentioned in today’s blog, are taking that first step towards civility.

As Churchill said after winning the battle of El Alamein in 1942, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Let’s hope so.

And A tip o’ the cabbie’s cap to Chris “RepMan, Jr.” Cody for this idea.

Mar 10

“RepMan returns Trump book”

– Blogger also ends long-term, unofficial sponsorship –

New York, March 10, 2016 — The blogger known as RepMan today announced he would be returning a 2004 book, entitled, “The best business advice I’ve ever received.”

The book was “written” by Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, (@realDonaldTrump) and contained anecdotes from some 100 leading executives.

IMG_29aa44RepMan also announced his blog would no longer be an unofficial sponsor of any of Trump’s 7,581 brands (Note to readers: RepMan earned his MBA at Trump University and routinely catered personal and professional parties with Trump steaks).

“I do my best to avoid endorsing any political candidate and, in fact, today’s decisions have nothing to do with Mr. Trump’s controversial pronouncements,” said RepMan. “Rather, it’s a statement about my blog’s ethical and moral beliefs.”

He continued, “While our sponsorship standards are unbelievably low, we felt we had to draw a line in the sand at some point.”

Rep was quick to point out that RepMan has a consistent record of ending sponsorships with controversial public figures including Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds and Anthony Weiner.

“It’s important to note that none of the individuals named above, including Mr. Trump, had any inkling we’d even been sponsoring them in the first place, added RepMan.

A typical RepMan sponsorship includes an occasional mention in a blog or link to a pertinent article. It can also include absolutely no mention whatsoever of the high-profile figure.

In closing, RepMan likened his sending Trump’s book back to Trump to John Lennon’s returning his Knight of the British Empire (KBE) medal to Buckingham Palace in the midst of the Vietnam War. “Plus, ‘Instant Karma’ is one of my all-time favorite tunes,” he added.

The RepMan blog, Rep TV and the various RepMan holdings are the sole property of RepMan Entertainment, LLC, a Cayman Islands-based corporation.

Mar 07

Commuting’s answer to water boarding

IMG_0401New Jersey Transit (@NJTransit) is my commute of choice. That’s because I have no other choice.

As I pen this morning’s blog, we are one-week away from a massive NJT strike that will shut down all service system wide. The reason: union workers want more dough. Note: NJT also recently raised commuter rail fares by a hefty amount.

I’d be more sympathetic towards the rate hikes and the workforce raises if NJT didn’t provide the worst customer service since the crew of the RMS Titanic some 20 minutes before disappearing beneath the waves “Out of my way, luv! It’s every man for himself!”

To illustrate just a few of NJT’s many sordid, day-in, day-out experiences, consider the following:

– 90 percent of their trains are delayed
– Conductors consistently adopt a hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil attitude whenever there are delays (“Beats me why we’re stopped. Listen for announcements.”). Helpful, no? As a result, passengers are left guessing why we’ve stopped dead in our tracks, what’s caused the delay and when we might be moving again
– 90 percent of their rest room facilities are so foul that they’d be shunned by Al Qaeda fighters in the remote mountains of Afghanistan
– With a few, rare exceptions, the conductors are rude, surly and impatient (especially when asked if they’ve heard of any updates on the proposed strike). “What do I look like? A friggin’ reporter? Watch the news!” You have a great day as well, Mr. Conductor.

And, yet, these buffoons have the gall to ask for money. That’s akin to:

– Congress demanding salary increases based upon their stellar, eight-year track record.
– Mayor DeBlasio requesting a pay raise after returning New York City to its late 1970s Abe Beame-like mean streets look and feel.
– The Department of Transportation justifying a funding increase based upon building one of the world’s great infrastructures.

Bad people don’t deserve good raises.

But, when those bad people hold all the cards a la NJT, what recourse does the average rider have? Stage a reverse strike and refuse to ride on any NJT bus or train? Not bloody likely. Drive to, and from, Manhattan? Even less bloody likely.

And, so we’re left sitting in our cells on death row awaiting the executioner’s decision (and/or a call from Governor Chris Christie issuing a stay of execution. But, Big Boy, as W. used to refer to him, is still trying to convince people he wasn’t being held hostage by Donald Trump during that embarrassment of an endorsement).

All of which leads me to suggest yet another update on NJT’s tagline. As you may recall, I originally added the word “eventually” to the current motto of “Getting you there.” I felt it better managed rider expectations.

But, that no longer accurately describes the truly horrific life of the NJT commuter. I’m lobbying for a new, more authentic and fully transparent motto:

“Commuting’s answer to water boarding”

As O. J. Simpson might say, “It fits like a glove.”

Mar 03

And the male bashing continues unabated

impulseaaI recently stumbled across a column entitled, “Gender Marketing Differences.”

The laughably generic tome was authored by Joseph Carrabis, founder and CEO of The Next Stage, a firm which helps companies improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior.

But, after reading the Carrabis synopsis on the fundamental shopping differences between men and women, methinks The Next Stage should be yanked off-stage. Pronto.

Here’s why.

According to Carrabis, women are cogno-emotional placial shoppers who make strategic purchases with the long-term use of a product weighing heavily in their decision-making (BTW, ya gotta love the term ‘cogno-emotional placial.’ It sounds like something you’d study in Paleoanthropology 101).

We Neanderthals, on the other hand, are dismissed as mere spatial shoppers who make immediate buying decisions to fulfill our of-the-moment needs.

To which I respond, hogwash!

The Carrabis piece not only reinforces generic stereotypes but, once again paints men as thoughtless, egocentric, shoot-from-the-hip buffoons (which, BTW, does describe Donald Trump to a T). It also continues the virtually endless portrayal of women as thoughtful, calculating, strategic and far-sighted visionaries (Note to female readers: Would you use those words to describe Sarah Palin?).

I have two immediate issues with the findings:

1.) They most certainly do not apply to any man I know. You won’t find any guy making a snap, impulse decision when it comes to buying a car, a home or a serious fashion item (Think: A brand new suit).

Indeed, this spatial male-cum-blogger thinks long-and-hard about everything from re-sale value and durability, to objective, third party reviews and the opinions of trusted friends and family before reaching into my wallet.

2.) The perpetual negative male stereotyping by pseudo experts like Carrabis as well as the depiction of men as stumbling, bumbling idiots by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, respectively, is doing a real psychological number on young boys and men.

Indeed, an entire generation of boys has been schooled to believe their female counterparts are smarter, more intuitive, and better communicators. And, Homer Simpson is their uber role model. Talk about emasculation!

Stereotyping of any kind is dangerous. Stereotyping one gender as being far superior to the other in so many ways (including shopping) is destructive. In many ways, it reminds me of 19th century thinking about minorities.

I, for one, would like to call out the people who are perpetuating these dangerous generalizations. I’m all for equality of the sexes, but not at the cost of making millions of boys and young men think they’re inferior.

I’d continue, but I just spotted a tie that I MUST buy. I guess I’m just embracing my inner spatial self.





Mar 01

Offending everyone is not a sound marketing strategy

Today’s guest blog is by Waterville, Maine’s, best lawyer (and my sister-in-law,) Joan Phillips-Sandy.

gloriasteinem5The recent Lands’ End – Gloria Steinem flap looks like a totally mismanaged PR incident to me. First, Lands’ End ticked off the anti-abortion/anti-choice folks (including some Christian schools who buy uniforms there) by featuring Ms. Steinem, and then aggravated the pro-choice folks by apologizing and taking the Steinem feature off its website.

I’m not a PR professional, but how could Lands’ End not know that featuring noted feminist/activist Gloria Steinem would engender controversy? The interview, by CEO Federica Marchionni, was the start of its Legend Series, highlighting people who “made a difference.” Although the interview did not mention abortion, how hard is it to realize that of course Ms. Steinem supports abortion rights? And do they not realize that abortion is one of the most divisive and controversial issues of our times? It should not have been at all surprising that Lands’ End came under attack from those who oppose abortion rights.

When the inevitable occurred, the company’s hasty and ill-conceived response made things worse. It apologized. In addition to stating that it did not intend to endorse any particular political or religious viewpoint, it immediately removed the interview. This caused a firestorm of protest from pro-choice people who saw the response as siding with pro-lifers. So despite its assertion that it did not intend to take sides, Lands’ End did.

Recent media reports note that controversy has propelled Donald Trump to the top of the GOP heap. Maybe that’s what Lands’ End was trying to do?