Apr 26

People and Culture in 2017: What Matters Most?

There’s no secret to running a successful business: You attract and retain good people who, in turn, attract and retain good clients. Ah, but to suggest accomplishing the above is easy is akin to saying Donald Trump is introverted.  Today’s guest column was penned by Sara Whitman, our culture czar and head of Human Resources who believe success, and a successful culture, are the result of two key factors.“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,” Peter Drucker.

These wise words rang in my ears as I found myself asking, “What are those right things?” Enter Pomello, a provider of culture analytics solutions. The company published a report last month on the key people management and company culture priorities in 2017. The core hypothesis in the report is that companies reach a tipping point when they hit about 1000 employees. At that point, Pomello says that companies start to shift people management priorities towards employee engagement, learning & development and leadership.

But I’m not so sure that the scale of the company dictates that focus. Working at an agency with 100+ employees, those priorities feel right for us as well.  And it has me thinking, is it less about scale and more about maturity of the business? Could it be how well developed a focus senior management has on culture and people management in general?

I spoke with Pomello co-founder and COO, Catherine Spence about my thoughts. “It’s possible. Maturity of a business is much harder to measure. For most companies, there is a fast-growth period that shifts priorities quickly. We definitely see companies struggle to keep their culture strong as they scale.”

The Pomello report states that only 14% of larger companies report having a very strong culture, compared to smaller companies where more than a third report having a strong culture. So how can companies maintain culture through change? I believe it comes down to two things:

  1. It comes from the top. Whatever the culture stands for, if the leaders at the top do not demonstrate those principles and values, the culture will morph and won’t hold steady through change. Leaders need to believe in the culture, demonstrate it in their actions every day and make sure that any process, system and approach reinforces that culture as the company grows or embarks on any other type of change.
  1. But it belongs to the people. If the leaders set the tone for the culture, employees set the tempo. Departments, teams and individuals across the company need to be feel empowered to express the culture in ways that are meaningful – and not dictated – to them. Giving employees the freedom to express opinions, to introduce new ideas and to run with them will ignite the culture and allow it to blaze throughout the organization.

As I look ahead to the rest of this year, doing the right things to maintain those two factors is exactly where we’ll focus in 2017, and we encourage you to do the same. Lead on.


Apr 24

Fake News Comes to Advertising

What did Grace Kelly and Amelia Earhart have in common?

Aside from being superstars during their lifetimes, a new ad from Allergan would suggest that, along with a bevy of other high-profile role models featured in a new TV spot, the aviatrix and princess of Monaco suffered from, get this, dry eyes.

Don’t believe me? Check out the spot.

Now, I consider myself quite the historian, and I’ve never, ever read about Amelia struggles with dry eyes as she vainly sought to find a place to land her lost aircraft on Homeland Island. Nor do I remember the cause cited for Princess Grace’s death in an automobile accident as being linked to dry eyes.

In fact, I’ll bet there’s no documentation whatsoever to prove these two rolemodels suffered from what, the heartbreak of dry eyes? The discomfort? The redness and itchiness? Or, is red eyes merely an inconvenience? I’m not sure.

I’m not trying to minimize whatever discomfort the condition might cause, but Allergen, the ad’s sponsor (whose logo is seen oh-so-briefly at the very end of the spot) wants you to believe the opposite.

In fact, by bombarding us with snapshots of scores upon scores of women, we’re led to believe that:

  1. ALL of these ladies do/did battle with dry eyes.
  2. Allergan can help.

Now, the latter may be true, but the former qualifies as fake news in my book. And, unless Allergan can provide documented proof to the contrary, I’m calling them out.

Allergen can then do one of three things:

  1. Issue a clarification and apology
  2. Prove me wrong
  3. Ignore my blog. Instead, it can own the fake news and hire the queen of misinformation, the seldom seen White House Strategist Kellyanne Conway.

After all, it was Ms. Conway who coined the now infamous expression “alternative facts” when she was confronted by reporters the morning after her boss’s inauguration with the actual number of people who turned out to watch the reality star be sworn in.

We already have Breitbart, the dearly departed Bill O’Reilly and scads and scads of far left- and right-wing sources to provide fake news and lies. Now, thanks to Allergan, we have to start questioning the veracity of TV commercials as well. Well done, Allergan. Well done.

It’s almost enough to make me wipe away a tear but, like Madame Bovary, Joan of Arc and Cleopatra, I, too, suffer from dry eyes and simply can’t conjure up a tear. Or a lie, for that matter.

Apr 19

Don’t Come Around Here No More

Imagine you work in the travel & tourism business. Now, imagine you’re the senior executive leading a major U.S. city’s tourism efforts.

Now, consider these sobering facts:

– Some 4.3 million FEWER people are expected to visit the U.S. this year .

– The overall travel & tourism industry is expected to LOSE $7.4 billion in revenue in 2017.

– Next year will be EVEN WORSE: There will 6.3 million fewer tourists and $10.8 billion in lost revenues.

Miami will be the hardest hit destination spot, followed closely by San Francisco and New York (serves them right for once being, or continuing to be, sanctuary cities).

Anyway, these dire facts and projections are the direct result of what the New York Times has dubbed, “The Trump Slump.”

It seems our 45th president’s vitriolic, whacko and completely unsubstantiated claims are sending a very clear, if unsettling, message to the rest of the world: Find other countries to kick back and relax while on vacation.

Arne Sorensen, chief executive of Marriott International, the world’s biggest hotel company, says it isn’t just tourists who are steering clear of the land of the free and the home of the brave: “…companies and conferences were also choosing to host events in other countries due to uncertainty over restrictions on entry to the U. S.”


Now, factor in yesterday’s hate crime in Fresno, the Charleston Church shootings and the deranged, random gunman who chose to document his assassination of a complete stranger on Facebook, and you’re facing a serious image and reputation challenge if you happen to be in charge of any large U.S. city’s tourism and business conference operations.

Things have gotten so dicey that even those fun-loving Canadians I always seem to bump into at the Jersey Shore over the Fourth of July weekend are staying put in the Great White North. Can anyone imagine a Summer in Cape May without bumping into roving bands of Québécois who’ve just driven 1,000 miles to frolic in our syringe-strewn seas?

Want some more anti-globalization fat to chew on? The number of flights from China and Iraq have dropped 40 percent since January 20th (The Donald’s inauguration date lest you forget), and demand from Ireland and New Zealand are down 35 percent.

Ah, but try to guess the one country where departing flights to the U.S. have surged 60 percent this year? If you said the land of Lenin, Tolstoy and Vlad “The Bear” Putin, you’d be correct.

While all of this news is sad and sobering (and has untold ripple effects on the cottage industries that support hotels, convention halls and Disney-type theme parks), consider the implications on jobs. Yes, jobs. The one issue that propelled Trump to his incredible victory.

While I wasn’t able to unearth specific numbers or predictions, The Trump Factor is singlehandedly idling hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of Americans who count on long-term employment in travel & tourism to earn their livelihood.

Methinks the president couldn’t care less since I understand Trump-branded properties are faring quite well. So, if Eric and Donald, Jr., aren’t being impacted, what’s the big deal? And, speaking of deals, how about that monopolistic move by Ivanka with Communist China? That should reset a lot of jobs. In China.

What is crystal clear is that Trump will only accelerate his isolationist, America-first Tweeting and pontificating. In his endless efforts to flex America’s muscle, he’s dramatically weakened one of the key sectors of our economy. But, hey, I’ll bet all the statistics I’ve read and cited would be dismissed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer as mere “…Left-Wing, fake news from the Opposition Party.”

Leaving Spicey and getting back to the profound marketing challenge facing the travel & tourism industry today, I suggest they consider one of these three campaign strategies:

1.) Admit fault, but position fear and hatred as an unexpected value add to a foreign national’s otherwise mundane vacation: “You’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. Now, we can detain you AND provide a few extra weeks to explore ALL of its natural beauty. But, remember to pack your handcuffs. it’s a BYO destination.”

2.) Play-up the historical significance of a vacation to the U.S. during Trump’s reign. “You missed Mussolini and were too young to experience Stalin’s Gulags, so why not watch, firsthand, as a Democracy becomes a dictatorship. Talk about a story you can tell the grand kids!”

3.) Throw up your hands and tell it like it is. Borrow a line from a Tom Petty classic and run ads headlined, “Don’t come around here no more. Or, at least not until 2039.'”

Thoughts (and campaign themes) welcomed.

And A tip o’ RepMan’s cap to Chris Cody for suggesting this post.

Apr 18

Is hate entering mainstream advertising?

If there’s one thing those of you who are left or right of center (or stuck in the middle with me,) can agree upon, it’s this:  The one unifying thread Americans seem to share nowadays is hate.

Like you, I’ve unfriended countless, longtime BFFs on social channels, have seen a rift occur in my own family and, frankly, have tried to avoid talking politics at all costs.

But, having just viewed this new TV spot from Lexus, I wonder if marketers are picking up on the undercurrent of hate and subliminally adding it to their pitch?

Check it out (below) and pay close attention to the driver’s reaction AFTER he swerves to avoid hitting a businessman carrying a stack of papers. The car’s sensors prevented the driver from hitting the pedestrian, but the latter is left behind to pick-up all of the paperwork the car’s velocity scattered.

Meanwhile, the Lexus driver plows ahead with a definite smirk on his face that one could read as:

– I’m so happy my Lexus sensors prevented me from hitting that dope, or

– Stupid bastard. Serves him right that he’s left to try and scoop up his valuable paperwork.

Wouldn’t the average driver stop, pull over and help the guy collect his belongings? I certainly would. But, not this particular Lexus driver, who’s probably thinking, “F the pedestrian’s problems. I avoided an accident and have people to see, places to go and things to do.”

So, what’s your take? Did you react the way I did? And, based upon the ever escalating vitriol in our country, will other marketers find ways to subtly insert hate in their messaging? I have to believe half of the viewers shouted, “Right on!” when the driver smiled and plowed ahead while the other half felt terrible for the businessman.

Comments welcomed from fans of O’Reilly, Maddow and everyone else in-between.

And  a tip of RepMan’s racing helmet to Ann Barlow for suggesting this post.

Apr 14

While you were away

How many times have you surfaced from an important meeting only to check your iPhone and find out we’ve just launched 59 Tomahawk missiles, dropped the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan or read a Tweet warning “… if China won’t do something about North Korea, we will.”?

I’m aiming the questions at my fellow marketing communications professionals whose jobs demand they continually create informative, entertaining and, in many cases, inspiring content (despite the reality of what we see, read and hear on our news channels).

It’s a question particularly relevant to our profession and, I think, I know what you’ll say:

“Top PR and marketing professionals cannot let world events keep us from storytelling on our organizations’ behalf. It’s also more important right now to double down on our companies’ values and higher purpose in the belief that every constituent audience we serve needs to know we remain committed to doing the right thing.”

And I agree 100 percent.

But, we’re also human and while I can’t speak for you, I can’t help thinking that, despite our best-intentioned efforts to do the right thing, events are spiraling out of control.

So, I’m curious to know: When you’re not lying awake nights worrying about an upcoming shareholder meeting, a big new business pitch or rolling out a multi-phased, omnichannel marketing campaign, do you ponder the what if?

What if there won’t be an annual report this year (or any year for the next century or so)?

What if all of your organization’s noteworthy contributions end up lying buried in the rubble of an all-too-possible nuclear exchange between Trump and Putin?

How do you deal with it? Ignore it? Place your belief in the hope that things will soon settle down? And, for those of you in senior positions, do you ever discuss these subjects with your junior staff?

I’m not positing a POV either, but I ask because I know our trade press would never, ever raise the issue. Too genuine, too raw, too scary.

I’d just like to know how you’re doing, how you’re coping with the storm clouds on the horizon and if any of the above have affected the way you comport yourself on a day-to-day basis.

Input welcomed.

Apr 11

Now, THIS is a happy, happy recap!

For the first time since the second Clinton Administration (talk about halcyon days), more New Yorkers root for the Mets than their dreaded, cash roll-rich, cross-borough nemesis, the Yankees.

Make no mistake, this is a very big deal.

The Mets seldom win anything, much less a popularity contest but, says a recent Quinnipiac College survey, the Mets won this game in a laugher. (Note: DeGrom must have been on the mound and I’m guessing Cespedes went yard in the late innings to seal the deal).

I could sense the reversal of fortune just by spying the percentage of drunk and disorderly passengers on New Jersey Transit trains. In recent years, a far higher number of Mets uniform-clad fans would race up and down the hallways, tell conductors to “F-off” and pound, kick and scream at locked rest room doors, before heaving their stomach contents onto the head and shoulders of an unsuspecting commuter.

The news must really get stuck in craw of Peppercomm’s Adam Giambattista, who brazenly adorns his cube with distasteful Yankees memorabilia.

It should also give pause to Deb Brown, who notoriously dumped her lifelong allegiance to the Mets after the Strawberry, Gooden, Hernandez team aged and the Jeter-led Yankees Renaissance began in the mid-1990s.

She simply woke up one day and decided it was time for a change and said “I’m now a Yankees fan.”

When pressed for her Benedict Arnold-like stunt, Brown shrugged her shoulders and said she wanted to root for winners. Makes one wonder why she’s stayed at Peppercomm for so long.

True Mets fans don’t disappear; we simply go into hibernation for 10 or 20 year stretches until the franchise once again re-captures the Big Apple’s imagination.

My all-time favorite Mets announcer was Bob Murphy who, along with Lindsey Nelson and the indecipherable Ralph Kiner, started calling Mets games in their inaugural season of 1962.

On the rare occasions during his career when the Mets actually won pennants and the World Series (1969, 1973 and, of course, 1986) Murph would wear his partiality on his sleeve and unabashedly root for the Metropolitans.

And, at the end of each Mets win, and before taking a commercial break, Murph would urge listeners to stay tuned for the post-game summary by ecstatically stating, “I’ll be back with the happy, happy recap after these messages.”

I’ll bet wherever they are at moment, Lindsey, Ralph and Murph are lifting their mugs of Rhinegold to toast the Mets, the most popular baseball team in New York.

Put that in your Tom Paine pipe, Deb, and smoke it. And, Adam, keep dreaming about once was. The king is dead. Long live the king. For now.

And a tip o’ RepMan’s Met’s cap to Carmen Ferrigno for suggesting this post. 





Apr 06

Flat Pepsi – Learning from Sodamaker’s Latest Formula

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Chris Barlow.

Have you heard about the new Pepsi commercial? Assuming you own a computer and don’t get your RepMan via delivery boy, you most likely have. It combines two of everyone’s favorite things: a Kardashian, and the exploitation of worldwide protests to promote the sale of a sugary beverage.

The internet was not a fan of this cringe-inducing, quasi-deep advertisement that made it seem like protesting is a bunch of fun, dancing and soda. And what did Pepsi do about it? Not much. At least not for a good 12 hours. In the big picture, this may seem like a quick response, but in internet time it may as well be an eternity.

So why did Pepsi take so long, especially after taking their time with their last crisis? In today’s day and age, holding out on a response gives the media time to write their stories, shows how unprepared your company is for these scenarios and only allows your negative story to echo on in the endless annals of the internet.

Having a PR crisis and waiting to do something is the equivalent of breaking your leg and, well, waiting to do something. It gives media outlets time to cover what happened. It has time to go from the outraged twitter user, to the outraged twitter reporter, and before you know it, a top-tier outlet is writing about your video. Do you know what any fair, respectable reporter likes to include in that article? A quote from the company that allows them to provide their point of view.

Maybe Pepsi took so long to release a statement because they really wanted to nail down what they wanted to say. Better to craft a bulletproof, people-friendly statement than to come out with one that only fuels the fire.

Unfortunately, this only shows just how unprepared Pepsi was for this backlash. It seemed they hadn’t even considered the possibility that this commercial would be met with a negative response. Any company, and certainly one as big and well-known as Pepsi, should see around potentially dangerous corners and prepare in advance. Otherwise you’re caught like a deer in the headlights while the internet turns you into a meme.

Finally, Pepsi came with a statement to combat the online onslaught. Defending the spot like Sean Spicer with a Trump tweet, they wanted everyone to know that they believe their message has the potential to unify everyone, and they hope everyone can learn to see it that way, too.

The public was not happy about this tone-deafness either and once again, let Pepsi know it.  Finally, within hours of that statement, Pepsi removed the spot from the air. This was probably done to put an end to the nightmare they had endured for the last 24 hours. That’s good. That shows that Pepsi listened to its audience and responded accordingly. Maybe some advance testing with real people could have guided them before the commercial ever saw air time. Because on the internet, the nightmare does not go away with airtime cancellation. The internet doesn’t forget. Seriously.

The effects of a PR nightmare can last a long time. Pepsi’s only hope is for another brand to release a potentially harmful ad with zero awareness of today’s social climate, and who knows how long that could take.

Oh.  Never mind.

Apr 04

When our rotting infrastructure ruins a little boy’s day

I routinely subject myself to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that are included in my New Jersey Transit’s $485 monthly ticket.

I’m usually able to endure the total bullshit that’s doled out by the nation’s worst rail system for three reasons:

– I have an apartment in Manhattan that I use to break up the week’s transit nightmare.

– As the CEO and co-founder of Peppercomm, I often ask myself permission to work from home. I’m a great boss and have yet to turn down one of my requests.

– I’ll soon be moving very close to multiple ferry services that will transport me, by water, to the foot of E. 34th and First (thereby shaving off delays that add up to days each year from my train commute and a stress level that would measure at least 9.3 on the Richter Scale).

But, for once, today’s blog isn’t about me. It’s all about the outrageous stunt NJT pulled on unsuspecting Mets fans today.

Here’s what went down (or came to a screeching halt, if you prefer):

I hopped on a late train (the 8:42am from Middletown which “says” it arrives at Penn Station at 9:58am).

That was perfect since I could join my first meeting by phone and be in the office in time for everything else.

At this point I must add a key component to the narrative: I was absolutely surrounded by dads and their young (as is six or seven year old) sons. They were all dressed to the nines in Mets regalia and en route to see the team’s opening day.

I must admit to being a tad pissed to be sardined by these unwanted additional passengers but, hey, they were Mets fans (and I bleed the orange-and-blue).

So, I cranked up Tom Petty’s greatest hits and let the Mets fans run up and down the aisles, screaming, “Let’s Go Mets” without lodging my usual, formal complaint to an indifferent conductor.

And, then, NJT did its thing.

We stood perfectly still at the Woodbridge station for at least 15 minutes before a garbled message rang out: “Er, ah, so there’s been a derailment and all service into and out of Penn Station has been suspended indefinitely.”

That was it. No further explanation. No apology. Nada.

Immediately, the dads and their kids freaked out. The kids started crying and the dads began noodling on a back-up plan (i.e. car-pooling to CitiField, bagging the whole thing, etc.).

I felt terrible for the little guys who were so psyched to see what would turn out to be a Noah Syndegard tour de force (as he and the Mets destroyed the hated Braves at CitiField).

I’m hoping most dads and sons eventually made it to the game (thanks to their collective ingenuity), but the NJT conductors made it very clear they could give a rat’s ass about destroying an extra special father-son experience.

Trump may be able to fix the rotting infrastructure that’s turned our nation’s trains, planes and roads into a Third World joke, but it would take a miracle to change the attitude of NJ Transit and their work force.

Anyway, today’s experience inspired a brand new tagline for our country’s worst rail system:

“NJT: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

A tip o’ Rep’s conductor’s cap to Chris and Catharine Cody for inspiring this post.


Apr 03

When the sun sets on iconic brands

Imagine you’re the top marketer at a company that produces iconic board games and products that were once found in every American home and used by every man, woman and child.

Now, imagine that video games, robotics and artificial intelligence have become so ubiquitous that they’ve not only made your games and products seem quaint and antiquated in comparison, but they’ve they’ve converted your one-time base into computer addicts just as hungry to lose themselves inside ‘Call of Duty’ as they are to pop prescription pain killers or inject themselves with heroin.

Talk about every marketer’s nightmare. Holy hula hoops, Batman!

So, what to do?

Well, if you’re Hasbro, makers of the legendary board game, Monopoly, you reach out to what’s left of your audience and ask them to suggest new game tokens.

Or, if you’re Crayola, makers of those ubiquitous crayons, you hold a national contest to decide which color to drop. Sadly, dandelion (an underrated Rolling Stones song, BTW) was sunsetted (as consultants like to say).

Both stories garnered national coverage (which is no mean feat considering @POTUS routinely dominates the top three stories every single day).

But, it’s also sad to witness.

Monopoly is a board game that has ALWAYS taken way too long to play. In today’s ADD-addled, 24×7 world, what chance for success does it have? If I were a betting man, I’d predict the game will be sunsetted before the midterm elections put the Democrats back in control of both houses of Congress.

And, really, who cares if the thimble, boot and wheelbarrow tokens have been replaced by a penguin, dinosaur, rubber ducky (FYI, my dogs used to shred the rubber ducky I’d bring home with me from a certain Boston hotel).

As far as giving dandelion the boot, I’m guessing kindergarten teachers won’t even notice and still insist their students use Crayola crayons to draw barely recognizable windmills that their dads will dutifully pin on their office walls.

But, the handwriting is on the wall for Monopoly and Crayola crayons, as well as any other board game of 1960s-era.

The two iconic brands are vestiges of a time that has long passed. I’d put each in the horse-and-buggy category circa 1900. They’re holding on, but just barely.

It’s only a matter of time before some software manufacturer will create a way cool, much more user-friendly way for kids to color. And, Monopoly is a dead board game walking. I’m surprised it still has a pulse.

That said, a tip of the thimble and a last dandelion-colored love note to marketers forced to use CPR and paddle boards to maintain a pulse on two terminal patients.

Crayola and Monopoly: You had a nice run, but the hour is late and the last patrons are shuffling out of the bar. So, set ’em up, Joe. Let’s play one more interminably long Monopoly game and keep score with a dandelion-colored Crayola.

The kings are dead. Long live the kings.