May 25

When big business gets in big trouble

018ee079986d2ad45017c527284740deWhat do the N.F.L. and Big Tobacco have in common? Not surprisingly both are immersed in yet another crisis.

Let’s kick-off with the National Football League which, when it comes to cover-ups, makes Richard M. Nixon seem like a second-string Pop Warner scrub (which is exactly what he was when he played for tiny Whittier College in California)..

The N.F.L.’s latest misdirection was to purposely influence research on brain research. It seems that, while the league agreed to set aside tens of millions of dollars to concussion research to be overseen by the National Institutes of Health, they later pulled one heck of a flea-flicker.

They purposely chose to award the grant to a Boston University professor by the name of Sr. Robert Stern. Stern, it seems, is firmly in the pocket of the NFL since he’s been discredited as a longtime denier of the effects of concussions in players. Numerous experts on the subject agree Stern is the absolute wrong guy for the position. But, hey, this is the NFL. Are you surprised?

But, wait for the snap, it gets even worse. As part of the 2012 settlement, The NFL also agreed to fund a proposed five-part research project. But, they decided to punt on the fifth section which proposed conducting research on current and retired players after the player retired but before he died.

All of which means that, as it now stands, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or, C.T.E.) can only be diagnosed posthumously. So, long-suffering players will have to wait until they pass away before NFL-funded research can confirm whether CTE killed them. I’m only surprised the NFL hasn’t already presented themselves with a humanitarian award for the work they’ve been forced to do so far.

Now, let’s quickly turn to Big Tobacco, which is being sued by the family of the late Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, who died of cancer in his right parotid salivary gland.

Big Tobacco, and in this case, Altria, is being sued for purposely directing a marketing campaign in the late 1980s that was purposely aimed at young black athletes, and intended to hook them on smokeless tobacco. In Gwynn’s case, Altria’s marketing strategy worked like a beautifully executed hit-and-run.

The world-class hitter was positively addicted to Skoal smokeless tobacco. According to the suit, Gwynn would dip as soon as he awoke and would sometimes fall asleep with the product in his right lip and cheek area. His consumption was equivalent to smoking four or five packs of cigarettes a day.

Gwynn tried to quit countless times, but good, old Altria would continue to generously ship him can after can of the killer smokeless tobacco. That’s one of those selfless plays that never show up in the scorecard.

Gwynn’s family isn’t seeking specified damages but, now that they understand how he was targeted and that (Altria knew) they had this highly carcinogenic product and were marketing it, the family want to hold the business accountable and let a jury make the proper decision.

I can’t speak for you, or your firm, but I’d refuse to represent either the NFL or Altria.

The former has a long, and sordid, history of covering up the concussion story. And, the Altria executives who purposely targeted Gwynn and other, unsuspecting African-American athletes in an attempt to get them hooked deserve a special place in hell.

After word: I once listened to a speech delivered by one of our industry’s legendary patriarchs who, when asked why his firm continued to represent Big Tobacco, responded by saying, “In a free society, every organization deserves PR representation.”

Maybe so. But, you won’t catch Peppercomm coming within 100 yards or 60 feet, six inches (the distance from the mound to home plate) of these heinous organizations. Both deserve whatever punishment the courts deem appropriate.

RepReaders please note: I’m taking a brief hiatus to rock climb and sight see in Jordan, but will return to the task at hand on D-Day.


May 24

The perfect wedding gift

Burger_1745885aWell, RepMan readers, June is only a few days away. And, aside from bee stings and longer days, the month of June is synonymous with weddings.

Yes, Virginia, June is packed tighter with weddings than a NJ Transit train during rush-hour.

Weddings are especially stressful on the parents but, especially so on the father of the bride.

In addition to escorting his lovely daughter down the aisle and shelling out God knows how much loot for the event, dad (and mom) are also expected to give the new couple a gift to help them get a fast start on their long journey together.

In my case and, I’m guessing in the case of most parents, that final gift involves a tidy sum of money.

But, that’s not the case with one clearly, well-heeled dad (who is also gifted incredible powers of observation).

As you’ll see, this guy has been watching the entire event like a hawk, especially the reception where he notices his daughter and newly-minted son-in-law have been dancing like it’s 1999, making the rounds of tables to receive hearty congratulations and hefty checks, and otherwise soaking in every moment of their special day.

But, dad knows they’ve missed something essential: a good meal.

So, in one of the most touching moments in TV commercial history since Mr. Clean appeared out of nowhere to mop-up a dirty, disgusting kitchen floor at the last possible second, dad saves the day.

What did Dad do? Give them one last humongous check that will pay their bills well through Trump’s second term? Two tickets to paradise? Job offers for each at his Wall Street investment banking firm?

No sir. Click this link to see what dad actually bought the kids.

That’s right, he got them double cheeseburgers and fries (set on a sterling silver set that I’m guessing dad instructed the driver to return afterwards).

Yes, he knew the kids had had no time to eat so, being the thoughtful human being he is, dad made sure the bride-and-groom had an opportunity to inhale some 2,500 calories each, and wash down the artery-clogging contents with Supersized Cokes. Yummy!

Happily, he can now rest easy. Dad’s job is done. He paid for the wedding, escorted his beloved his baby down the aisle and now played a small, but important, role in addicting the young couple to the world’s least healthy food.

Since weddings are rich in tradition, I have to believe that, some 25 years hence, the new groom will find himself in a similar predicament as his eldest daughter prepares for her first nuptial. But, happily, the precedent has already been set.

He’ll have double cheeseburgers, fries and Supersized Cokes set-up for a new, and unsuspecting, couple soon-to-become fast food junkies on their own.

Note: The only thing dad number one missed was having the limo driver dress as Ronald McDonald. Now, that would have been a wedding experience for the ages (however shortened those lifespans may be).

And a tip ‘0 RepMan’s short order cook cap to Tommy “Big Mac” Powers for this idea. 

May 18

I’m out with the In Crowd

bigguy_littleguy_1I recently attended the Spring Conference of the PRSA Counselors Academy.

Since the three-day event was held in San Juan, which was in the midst of a non-stop two-week deluge that would have made Noah proud, we members had lots of time to shoot the tropical breeze.

To appreciate our conversations, though, one must first understand two things:

– The membership of CA is comprised of some 300 owners of small and medium-sized PR agency owners (the entrepreneurs and catalysts of growth and jobs in every industry).

– Alas, we self-made entrepreneurs are consistently overlooked by PR Week (@PRWeekUS), the de facto industry trade bible. In fact, since a new editorial team took the helm a few years back, the editorial focus has undergone a complete 180.

When it was founded, and steered magnificently by then editor. Julia Hood, PR Week truly was the most sophisticated and balanced voice of the entire industry.

Today, though, its tagline should read: “Of, by, and for the elite. Their most recent “Global Agency Business Report” is only the most recent example of hagiographic reporting that focuses almost exclusively on two core audiences: global PR firms and Fortune 500 companies.

I understand that, collectively, the Top 10 PR firms probably account for 80 percent of our field’s billings. And, I also realize that these aircraft carrier-sized agencies derive the bulk of their billings from the Fortune 500 so, I’m guessing PR Week is following the old 80/20 rule of sales.

But, here’s the dark side of their laser-focus on the one-per centers of PR: They’ve completely alienated the hundreds, if not thousands, of small and medium-sized agencies. In effect, they’re purposely ignoring tomorrow’s Harold Bursons, Al Golins and John W. Hills. And, shame on them for doing so.

Now, back to the soggy, San Juan conversation with my fellow PR entrepreneurs. To a person, they said they’ve canceled their subscriptions to PR Week (since the content is totally irrelevant to their needs). They’ve also stopped submitting awards’ entries since at $895 a pop they can barely afford even one (as opposed to the scores of big agency guys for whom the entry fee is a mere drop in the bucket).

And, needless, to say, you won’t find superb smaller firms buying $10,000 tables at the endless industry awards’ programs either.

This is a true shame, and does our industry a disservice in two critical ways:

– The top award winners aren’t competing against the best programs from the hinterlands

– By focusing solely on “la vida global”, PR Week is providing hundreds of thousands of PR undergrads with a one-dimensional view of potential career paths.

Will PR Week listen to, respond or dare I suggest it, even publish my blog? No way, Jose, as say in San Juan.

They’ve discovered a winning, profitable formula, and aren’t about to mess with it.

May 16

Some Pretty Rank Rankings

140438_600Today’s media beasts salivate at the prospect of three things:

– Scandal

– Sleaze

– Surveys/ polls/ rankings.

Let’s skip the first two subjects since a certain presumptive presidential feeds the media more than they can digest in an average news cycle.

Instead, I call your attention to a most unusual ranking of U.S. presidents recently published by

As you’ll see, the InsideGov “experts” ranked the most successful U. S. presidents since FDR.

You’ll note that, somehow, someway, they decided that LBJ ranks ahead of FDR who, virtually every historian would agree, was among our nation’s five greatest presidents ever.

The LBJ choice is laugh out loud funny.

Let the record show that LBJ’s Great Society collapsed under its own weight. And, his misguided decision to listen to his generals and escalate the Vietnam War to the point where half a million U.S. servicemen were based there and 50,000 more lost their lives speaks for itself. But, it was LBJ’s tone-deaf response to the growing hostility to the war by college students and respected political leaders alike, that tore the nation apart and led to his being hounded from office.

LBJ was our greatest president since 1933? That’s like saying Angelina Jolie is America’s best actress since Bette Davis.

Note that a disgraced figure such as Richard Nixon finishes in the highly respectable eighth spot. And, ranking Eisenhower third also is a real head-scratcher.

Ike was a guy who basically served as caretaker while the post-World War II, rich-beyond-it’s-wildest dreams U.S., totally dominated every global economy industry worth noting. A competent librarian could have managed that ship of state.

I agree with ingov’s decision to place Carter and W. at the very bottom. The former totally bungled the Iranian hostage crisis while simultaneously plunging the U. S. economy into its worst state since 1929. And, say what you will about W., his ill-conceived invasion of Iraq set the stage for today’s total power vacuum in the region. W. also allowed Wall Street to run amok which, as we now know, led to the housing market bust, the collapse of Lehman and the need for the government to bail out Detroit and Wall Street alike. That’s some legacy.

I think Harry Truman should hold down the number two spot. In addition to integrating the Armed Forces, Truman feared no one and famously fired the dictatorial General Douglas MacArthur, when the latter publicly defied Truman’s commands during the Korean War.

I find the list fascinating since image and reputation also factored heavily into the final results (i.e. Reagan’s and JFK’s favorability ratings remain off the charts and clearly impacted their final standings).

But, in terms of who did the most for our country during his time in office, there’s FDR, and then there are the 12 also-rans.

Please weigh in, and tell me why you vehemently disagree with me and, if given the chance, would create a totally different list.

And let’s try to keep politics out of rankings the past 13 presidents. Cite the reasons why you either agree with ingov’s rankings, mine or neither.

And a tip o’ Rep’s cap to “Give ’em Hell” Powers for the idea.







May 12

Recruiter? I Wouldn’t Go Near Her!

clown-300x450As the CEO of a successful midsized, integrated agency, I often lie awake nights worrying the global firms will cherry-pick our superstars with outlandish pay offers and ersatz, inflated job titles. Lia LoBello, who penned today’s guest blog, is one of those superstars who causes my insomnia.

That said, based upon the laughably sophomoric recruitment letter she just received from a holding company’s recruitment officer, I have nothing to worry about (at least for tonight).
Final point: What does it say about the image and reputation of a global agency when their recruiters send such embarrassing notes to others in our industry?

It’s yet another story you’ll never read about in @prweekUS…..
As a longtime Peppercomm employee, I know RepMan never misses an opportunity to take aim at the industry and point out bad practice and form. So when I received the following, shall we say, communication from the “talent acquisition specialist” for a well-known large agency, I knew exactly who to share it with. This is via LinkedIn:

Chicago opportunity
Hi Lia,
CHICAGO  Bring you talent to the Midwest! Did you ever wished to be in a less hectic 
city? Would you like higher quality of life with lower cost of living? Chicago could 
be the next best city!!Would you or anyone you may know be interested to explore a 
Sr. level (VP or SVP, depending on experience) Media Relations role at [Redacted] 
PR in Chicago? Great opportunity for an entrepreneurial talent who is interested 
to own and grow in partnership with the Managing Director in Chicago.
• Business Media (C-suite/executive positioning, media tours, reputation management, 
Corporate branding- etc.) 
• Household name account experience/Fortune 100 to 500 accounts 
• Top tier national media experience (NY times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington post,
 MSNBC, Fox, CNBC, NBC, Bloomberg etc.) 
• Strategic 
• Entrepreneurial/Independent and self-motivated 
• Excellent writing skills 
• Able to work on multiple verticals. 
• Consumer experience would be a great +
Feel free to inquire about other opportunities in Corporate, Brand Marketing and 
Social@ [Redacted] in CHICAGO and specialized opportunities in DC, SF and LA 
Please let me know if you or anyone you may know would be interested to learn more? 
I look forward to hearing from you!

Oy. Once I confirmed this wasn’t LinkedIn spam, I took a second read of this hot mess of a recruitment letter just for kicks. It’s hard to believe that the numerous spelling mistakes and the horrific grammar are real. Since they are, that lack of care speaks volumes for what the rest of the agency must be like. Also, doesn’t the last sentence of the first paragraph make it seem like part of the job is to have physical ownership over the Managing Director? Yikes.
Moreover, given the senior level of this position – where are the job requirements of 2016? It’s positioned that this is a senior-level role, but where is the call requiring digital acumen (of any sort) or business development?
At least it’s clear that being “strategic” is a requirement – but in what way? I’m strategic all the time – at work, sure, but also on how I fit in exercise to my work week and how I maximize my time at the grocery store. Does this count?
In all seriousness, RepMan told me I couldn’t out the agency I received this from and I understand. However, this is a large agency that routinely wins business from major brands – brands with enough dollars to reach customers and audiences in new and exciting ways. As our industry changes into one where technology and culture and storytelling converge differently than they ever did before, we need recruiters at the forefront who can find the best and brightest minds from all corners to ensure this remains a viable career path for smart young businesspeople.
If I’m reading this right, not only was this letter intended to do that, but it was also to inspire me to pack my bags, leave New York for Chicago and start my exciting new career at this agency? It has accomplished the opposite, and that’s not very funny at all.

May 09

Life Reimagined

1140-common-mistakes-older-job-seekers-make-No-Digital-Presence.imgcache.rev1459788458956.web.945.544I’m racing through a book written by erstwhile NPR Reporter Barbara Bradley Haggerty. The title is, “Life Reimagined.” The subtitle is, “The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife.”

Now, before my Millennial readers hit delete, I urge you to continue reading because this blog is just as relevant to you as it is to that silver-haired executive in the corner office.

“Life Reimagined” chronicles the highs and lows of middle age which, God bless her, Haggerty says scientists now define as the ages between 45-65. Hell, that qualifies me as a Millennial-aged Boomer!

The book cites countless stories of professionals, and non-professionals alike, who found themselves cast adrift at midlife yet go on to live even happier and more successful lives in ‘Act Two if you will.

In my position, I run into countless, unemployed midlife PR professionals who have been badly broken by the realities of corporate downsizing.

These are individuals still at the very top of their games who have been let go because, wait for it, organizations can finder younger talent who will do the same job for far less money (an ugly, but oh-so-true reality about corporate America).

While I do my best to listen and suggest new pathways to pursue, most unemployed mid-lifers leave my office with their shoulders slumped and heads held low (come to think of it, that’s the way most people leave my office).

All of which leads me to the current issue of The Strategist (easily the most insightful, objective and useful of all the PR trades).

The Strategist cover asks readers, “What’s Next in Your Career“? And, it features pearls of wisdom from the likes of Bob Dilenschneider, DePaul University’s Linda Blakely and a former bank executive that really stopped me in my tracks.

It was penned by Steve Lebetkin who, in looking back at his last corporate gig, said, “…after getting through the Bank of America merger, a year of praise, a promotion and even a pay increase, the bank reorganized the communications function and I find (sic) myself outside looking in.”

Rather than sulk or wallow in depression, though, Lebetkin reimagined his life by leveraging his teenage passion: radio broadcasting.

He took that zeal, updated it to match the needs of our rapidly-changing times, and began creating professional-quality podcasts that he sold to corporations and online news organizations alike. Today, he’s not only thriving, but loving every moment of Act Two.

Lebetkin’s advice to other Boomers who have been discarded by corporate America like yesterday’s newspaper?  “Dig deeply into the skill set you have created and look for the things that excite you and drive you”

Now, back to my Millennial readers. Why did I ask you to stick with me? Because in the mere blink of an eye you, too, will be forced to figure out how to spend the second half of your lives.

And, while it may seem unimaginable that a 23-year-old might one day turn 55, trust me, it happens. And, it’ll happen to you.

The best advice I can give you today is to give some thought about what you’ll be doing tomorrow. Or, to paraphrase Ms. Haggerty, start to reimagine your life now.


May 04

Commuting’s answer to Donald Trump

Sardines-ima-330Scene… Thousands of hapless New Jersey Transit passengers are crammed like sardines inside a rush hour train. This blogger is distracting himself, however, by pouring through “Cliff Notes on the Holy Bible”. I was doing so to prepare for an upcoming intra-pod Bible board game competition that would see the winner receive an automatic by into Purgatory.

Dialogue: An elderly gent, whose head was somehow lodged between my forearm and bicep, coughed and looked up at me.

Elderly gent: (with a heavy British accent): “I say, is it always like this?”

Me: “Yup.” (I didn’t mean to be curt, but I was just getting to the section on Sodom & Gomorrah, the Old Testament’s answer to Hiroshima).

EG: “Pardon me, but isn’t this train scheduled to arrive in New York at 8:32 am?”

Me: “Yup”

EG: “Well, it’s already 9:05, and they haven’t said a word.”

Perhaps influenced by what I already knew was about to happen to poor Lot’s wife, I put down my Cliff Notes and explained.

Me: “You’re riding on New Jersey Transit, a public utility with no competition, rude conductors, soiled restrooms and absolutely no incentive to improve, so they get you to Penn Station when they feel like it. By the way, I said, my name’s Steve. EG’s moniker was Howie. We tried shaking hands but that was physically impossible.

Howie: ” But, I’m already late for my first class.”

Me: (suddenly intrigued, and knowing Lot’s wife’s lot had already been sealed, put down my book and asked Howie what he was studying).

Howie: “English as a second language. I was born, and raised, in Manchester, put in 45 years in the technology field and now want to give something back. I’m studying in order to teach English to school kids in Ecuador.”

Me: “That’s very admirable.”

Howie: “Thank you. But, I’m taking a six-week cram course and can’t afford to miss a minute. Now, I’ll already be 30 minutes late for my very first class. Don’t these bastards care about their image and reputation?”

Me: “They’re commuting’s answer to Donald Trump. They don’t have to worry about what they do or say.”

I then decided to impart some hard-earned wisdom….

Me: “You need to outthink NJT. So, if you absolutely must be somewhere at 9am, you purposely build-in an extra half hour and take a much earlier train. But, even that’s no guarantee since their trains break down faster than a Carly Fiorina bid for Vice President.”

Howie: “Remarkable that they can get away with such shoddy service.”

Me: “Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. Just wait until you try flying on United to reach Quito. You’d be better off buying two burros and trekking from here to there.”

As the train finally arrived a full 45 minutes late, I bid adieu to the harried Howie, a noble, elderly gent trying to do his small part to make the world a better place. But, as they have with so many other budding careerists, NJT had already derailed his best laid plans.

May 02

Have you ever hired, or worked with, a Johnny Football?

preview.LCCDoi65LYQH8cgz_500Are you familiar with the sad plight of Johnny Football? Johnny Football was Johnny Manziel’s nickname when he burst upon the national sports scene as an all-world quarterback at Texas A&M.

Alas, Johnny Football couldn’t wait for the big bucks that went hand-in-glove with signing an NFL contract. So, Johnny quit after his sophomore year and entered the NFL draft.

I’ll let you read the poignant tale of how Johnny sat and sat, waiting on draft day for some team to claim him (while a heartless ESPN team trained its camera on him as he squirmed, fretted and suffered until the Cleveland Browns finally drafted him as the 23rd selection.

Johnny Football floundered in the NFL, throwing only two touchdown passes in two seasons He got cut and has not been picked up by anyone else.

Today, at the tender age of 23, Johnny Manziel is being called the Lindsay Lohan of football. He’s plagued with drug and alcohol addiction, and has had countless clashes with the law. His dad fears for poor Johnny’s very life.

I bring up this true downer of a story because, we too, have hired PR’s versions of Johnny Football. These were sure-fire, can’t miss superstars with superb credentials and impeccable references. And each one flamed out in very high-profile ways. Here are three, quick anonymous examples:

– A project manager who possessed the exact combination of skills needed to organize our multiple, fully integrated accounts. Sadly, Johnny Project pissed off everyone he worked with, excelled at backstabbing and actually told a client we weren’t qualified to handle a new assignment. He was escorted to the elevators within 30 days of joining us.

– A senior client-side executive who had managed countless CEOs, high-level crises and global thought leadership programs. We were positive Johnny Corporate would provide a critical, client-side perspective to everything we did. Sadly, Johnny Corporate also came equipped with a patronizing, “I know better than you” attitude and was pretty much ignored by our senior management team. Johnny Corporate beat us to the punch, and left before he could be cut.

– Last, but not least, was the sure-fire management supervisor who joined us from a global agency and had managed countless Fortune 500 accounts. But, sure enough, Johnny Big Agency was used to working in a hierarchal culture and, within the first week, was complaining that Peppercomm didn’t have its own research and measurement departments (which we now possess, thank you very much) and pretty much expected his underlings to do all of his work. Johnny BigAgency simply couldn’t cope in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial culture and quickly returned to the safety, and security, of an aircraft carrier-sized, multi-layered global firm.

Every agency has hired a Johnny Manziel, and survived to fight another day (or play another down, if you will). So, do me a favor and share your Johnny Football story. We all have one.