Oct 26

Have the clowns finally killed The Clown?

ronald-mcdonald-clown-hed-a-2016I’ve despised Ronald McDonald ever since the fast-food chain first introduced him in 1963 (the same year JFK was assassinated. Coincidence?).

At first, the clown merely scared me in a way that future CEOs would. There was just something about him that sent shivers up and down my spine.

Then, as I came of age, my still-forming marketing mind struggled to figure out the strategic connection between a fast food chain and the doppelgänger of Stephen King’s ‘It’.

Decade-after-decade, I cringed as I watched helplessly on the sidelines as Ronald lured low-income parents and their unsuspecting kids into SuperSized dens of food iniquity.

Well, guess what? There is a god after all.

McDonald’s just announced that, in the wake of the truly creepy clown attacks that are terrorizing the entire globe, McDonald’s will be LIMITING Ronald’s personal appearances. That’s the best news I’ve heard since the release of the Access: Hollywood audio tapes!

While I despise terrorism in every form (especially in the work force), I’m hoping against hope the worldwide clown attacks will finally force Mickey D’s marketing geniuses to wake-up and severe ties with the devious and deceptive Ronald.

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d wager that damn clown is single-handedly responsible for causing millions of Americans to jeopardize their health and well being while “innocently” enticing a whole new generation of kids to stuff their mouths full of empty calories. It’s not just unethical; it’s morally reprehensible.

So, here’s hoping the clowns have killed the clown. It’s time for a great American brand to step-up and select a corporate icon that sends a positive health and wellness message to a country in desperate need of one.

But, let’s face facts. Will McDonald’s ever drop Ronald? That’s like asking if the Jets will ever win another Super Bowl.


Oct 20

A salute to those who enable us to keep the lights on

Today has been declared “Get to know your customers day.”


I’m not sure who decides why each day has to have a particular theme, but so be it.

It goes without saying that customers are the lifeblood of any business and, as is the case in any relationship that matters, client relationships need to be nurtured, nourished and cherished.

We get to know our customers in three distinct ways:

1.) We take a deep dive into their business model and, in the instances where they’ll allow it, tag along on sales calls so we can hear, first-hand, what THEIR customers’ wants and needs are. It’s an extremely effective way of fine-tuning our communications programs.

2.) We put ourselves in our customer’s customers’ shoes and experience a client’s value proposition from the outside in. So, we examine each and every virtual and physical client ‘touchpoint’ and evaluate the experience. Our employees become the target audience and, more often than not, uncover one or more serious disconnects between what our client promises and the end user actually experiences.

3.) We meet on a regular basis with CCOs and CMOs from various industries and ask them what’s keeping them awake at night, how mobile is influencing their decision-making, etc. We then put these findings together in an anonymous white paper and share it with our customers, who are often too tied up in their own worlds to keep track of what their peers are doing.

It’s a three-step process that seems to work very well. It’s also been central to our maintaining so many client relationships for so many years.

So, tell me, how do you get to know your customers?



Oct 19

A book that informs and makes you laugh out loud? Say it ain’t so

51b1eALnuAL (2)Aside from every book written by Christopher Buckley, and Stanley Bing, I’m hard pressed to name another author who possesses the gift to inform and elicit an LOL at the same time.

My longtime buddy, Chris Atkins, has just penned such a book. It’s called, “An Honest Day’s Work: True Tales of a Life in PR“.

But, don’t be misled by the rather myopic title (Sorry, Chris, I couldn’t help myself).

This is a MUST read for anyone and everyone who hopes to understand the ever-changing media landscape and, critically, how we arrived at the sad, sorry state in which we find ourselves.

Atkins’ tome (that apostrophe was you, Chris), follows a 35-year-long career path that includes stints at some of the world’s most admired corporations and global agencies.

If technology hates you as much as it does me, you’ll immediately relate to young Chris’s struggles to bang out a press release on a 1981 Smith Corona typewriter missing the letter ‘e’.

Then, in the blink of an eye, you’ll be standing alongside him as he singlehandedly serves as lead FedEx spokesperson in the immediate aftermath of an overnight plane crash at Newark Airport. He handled no fewer than three live CNN interviews. Talk about intense.

Chris was also front-and-center as the housing bubble burst and found himself defending Standard & Poor’s ratings. Ditto with his various misadventures at PwC and their misbehaving partners.

The beauty of these insightful stories is the way Chris balances them with laugh out loud funny anecdotes about abusive clients, alcoholic co-workers and, yes, Mr. Trump, sleazy reporters.

This is a book that is wise and witty (and an uber easy read to boot). I’d suggest every PR academic make it required reading for their PR industry wannabes. I’d also recommend B-School professors and Harvard Law types do the same since, as Chris points out, corner office executives and legal eagles alike are pretty much clueless about the multiple aspects of modern public relations.

One final note: While it’s limited to a scant and frankly, disappointing, three pages, this blogger plays a cameo role in the very beginning of Honest day’s work. And, really, how could I not rave about any book that doesn’t shine the spotlight (however briefly) on me?



Oct 17

The power of self-deprecating humor

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersOne of the hallmarks of great business leaders (and presidents) has always been their ability to laugh at themselves (especially in times of crisis).

When it comes to politics in particular, self-deprecating humor has enabled many a commander-in-chief to project authenticity, humanity and likability (while helping to diffuse the crisis du jour).

My personal favorites include Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Reagan and, believe it or not, W.

Each had the ability to find the humor in a head-on assault from the competition and, in one, way, shape or form, pivot by poking fun at himself.

Reagan’s rebuke to skeptics who suggested he’d lost touch with reality during the 1984 debates may be my all-time favorite example:

Many political pundits believe that single, self-deprecating statement re-elected Reagan.

I raise the subject of self-deprecating humor for two reasons:

1.) Trump’s total lack of self-deprecating humor is one of his most serious character flaws. Instead of deflecting, and redirecting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by laughing at his own flaws, The Donald goes postal (Note: I’m not suggesting he could, or should, make light of the sexual assault accusations, but there have been countless, previous missed opportunities he could have used humor as a weapon).

Most recent case in point: The Donald’s Sunday morning Tweet lambasting the laugh-out-loud funny Saturday Night parody of the most recent presidential debate. I thought it was balanced and poked fun at both candidates in hilarious ways. But, Trump disagreed, and missed a huge opportunity to share in the absurdity of it all. Instead, he lashed out at SNL and Alec Baldwin alike. Very bad move.

2.) I’ve based my entire career on self-deprecating humor and have used my “Expect Less” motto in both personal and professional settings. It enables me to inject humor in a presentation or performance by saying, “Hey, I warned you.”

While I’d never suggest I’m a great, or even decent leader, my self-deprecating humor has served me well over the years and, in fact, permeates our firm’s culture and has helped us win countless workplace awards (insert latest Fortune citation).’

Students of political history, communications or business in general should study a leader’s response to a crisis. His or her ability to show humanity, authenticity and, yes, self-deprecating humor separates the good from the great. Or, if you prefer, the least likable from the less-than-least likable.




Oct 14

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

rudyHave you noticed the increasingly bizarre role Former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, has been playing in the psychodrama otherwise known as the Trump campaign?

Forever linked to his masterly management of the Big Apple’s post-9/11 response, Rudy’s political aspirations for higher office have nonetheless been limited to a single issue: security/law & order.

And, make no mistake, Trump’s selection of Rudy to add credibility to the candidate’s anti-terrorism policies paid dividends throughout the primary process.

But, in recent weeks, as one Bill Cosby-type sexual allegation after another has sidelined, if not derailed, the Trump Express, Rudy has been wasting precious time defending Donald’s indefensible behavior. He’s gone off-message.

In fact, based upon his own personal track record, Giuliani brings about as much credibility to the predator discussion as Hugh Hefner would have as a character witness in the Gary Wendt/GE Capital divorce trial (Millennials: Please Google for additional information).

Rudy’s increasingly histrionic condemnations of the accusers and strident defense of Trump’s innocence are a colossal public relations blunder.

A solid campaign is driven by subject matter experts who can create awareness and establish credibility in multiple areas of interest to the target market with which a client wishes to engage.

It’s no longer enough for a global powerhouse to select a lead spokesperson to address macro issues. She MUST be surrounded, and supported, by other executives with expertise in everything from key vertical industries to the most arcane rule or regulation.

With Chris Christie now gridlocked by the latest Bridgegate developments, Giuliani stands alone as Trump’s lead proxy on an issue that could very well still make a dent in the undecided voter’s mind: terrorism.

And, yet, Rudy rants and raves about “false” molestation charges for 10 minutes before introducing Trump, who spends the next 45 minutes ranting and raving about the very same accusations.

When the post mortems are being held at Trump Tower on November 9th, rest assured that Rudy will take a bullet for straying off-message and missing opportunity after opportunity to drive home the ticket’s legitimate expertise on arguably THE most immediate issue of the day.

C’est la guerre.


Oct 11

Have we come a long way, baby?

1951 reduxI’m honored to be a board trustee of the Institute for Public Relations, a member of the Arthur W. Page nominating committee and one of the 12 original founders of the PR Council.

But, let’s face it folks, while PR has made enormous strides in the 65 years since this photograph was taken (note the arrow pointing to PR’s position in the agency presentation), FAR too many client organizations still see PR as a me-too, tactical bolt-on to their strategic marketing programs, an unwanted overhead expense and the very first area to downsize in recessionary times.

Comments welcomed…

Oct 04

It’s your reaction, stupid!

Today’s guest post is by  Nicole Newby and Samantha Bruno, Peppercomm’s Intern Committee Co-Coordinators.

twitter_battle_a_l (1)We all have horror stories about roommates, classmates, colleagues, the guy sitting next to us on the bus…the list goes on. But we never thought to vent our frustrations on Twitter. We aren’t Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We prefer to address our quibbles in person. Jessica and Nikki, though, identified more with the latter.

Jessica and Nikki were roommates at Penn State who clearly did not pass any kind of compatibility test. Nikki took to Twitter first to air some of her grievances. Jessica later found the tweets and posted a few of her own, which escalated the roommate arguments to a global level, even inviting police involvement.

When Steve Cody asked if we would hire either of them as interns, our collective initial reaction was: “No way!” Simply put, we would never hire someone who blatantly can’t get along with other people for a position that relies so heavily on teamwork.

But upon further thinking, we took a step back. This situation is a microcosm for exactly what we do every day in the office—crisis management. Sure, none of our clients (at the moment) are in the hot seat for something as ridiculous as tweeting a screenshot of other tweets about their annoying coworker’s desk lamp or drug habits, but they are dealing with mistakes and facing public scrutiny for them. One of the most important points we always emphasize with clients in crisis situations really stood out to us while reading the article: You won’t be judged on the crisis. You will be judged by how you respond to it.

That means that right NOW is the critical moment for both Jessica and Nikki. Let’s take a quick look at how they’ve reacted so far:

  • Jessica: Adding fuel to the fire, she gives an interview to the Washington Post and allows them to use her last name.
  • Nikki: Recognizing the repercussions on her reputation, she refuses to continue engaging in the situation.

They have both acted on extreme ends of the spectrum, but has either issued an apology and taken responsibility for their actions?

The jury is still out on this one. We’re waiting to see how they work to rectify the situation to improve their personal brand. If either one can do this successfully, we would absolutely consider hiring her. There’s no better way to exemplify your value as a PR and communications professional than single-handedly managing a public crisis.

A side bar PSA to all the high school and college students out there before we sign off – As the power of social media grows, so does the breadth of available channels for individuals to communicate their every thought and movement.

We are not sure that young people fully understand the repercussions of that. Perspective employers, including us, utilize Google during the hiring process, so think twice before you air out all of your dirty laundry. While a post may seem to have a short lifespan and anonymity on social media, don’t fall asleep under a false sense of security. What you put out there, could come back to haunt you, jeopardizing future professional opportunities. That may not be your top priority in high school, but it should at least be on the list.  Trust us when we say, most of the time, we’d much rather just read about what you ate for dinner.


Oct 03

An accident waiting to happen

hoboken-nj-transit-train-crash-maps-1475163112197-master495-v2I naturally wanted to wait a few days to pass before opining on the terrible New Jersey Transit tragedy that left one person dead and scores of others injured this past week. And, no one is still sure whether the engineer is fault, the equipment wasn’t functioning or Amtrak/NJT simply decided not to fund the automatic braking system that would have prevented this bloody nightmare in the first place.

I must admit to having a knee-jerk reaction when I first heard the news: It was a combination of horror and resignation, but most certainly not shock.

NJTransit has been a favorite target of mine; I’ve blogged, Tweeted, posted photographs on FBook and Instagram and even included NJT in my stand-up comedy routine. But the accident was most definitely NOT a laughing a matter.

But, if any accident could be seen happening years in advance, it was the one in Hoboken.

For years, I’ve:

– Ridden on decrepit, ill-kempt passenger cars that were filled with litter.
– Sat on trains that were stuck at a full-stop.
– Avoided restrooms that doubled as cesspools.
– Been barked at by morose and sullen conductors.
– Been frustrated by the near total lack of communications on delays, cancelations or other matters of import.
– Waited patiently as rookie engineers routinely undershot, or overshot, station platforms (note: this was a weekly, if not daily, occurrence)

The latter always elicited a head-shaking, Donald Trump-like sigh from me, but I never imagined it would one day lead to tragedy. It was quite clear the engineers were inept when it came to safely easing their massive engines and precious cargo into a station. But, I figured well, one day, they’ll get it right. And, then there were the times when a train came whizzing into Penn Station, making me wonder how on earth the engineer would brake the cars in time for a safe stop.

And, don’t get me started on NJT’s hub, Penn Station. It’s easily one of Manhattan’s worst eyesores.

All of that spoke to me of a management that simply didn’t care, wouldn’t invest the money to upgrade its transportation or, more importantly, properly train engineers and conductors on everything from driving and maintenance to courtesy and professionalism.

Sometimes, you can spot an accident waiting to happen just by the way a business comports itself. Sadly, NJT was a case in point.

In this case, my only question is: How come it took so long?

Here’s hoping the tremendous image and reputation hit will knock some sense into NJ Governor Chris Christie and the ineffectual management at Amtrak/NJ Transit. I think it will. But, why does it always take a tragedy to force change? This one was years in the making.