Dec 02

The decline and fall of the English Language

I wanted to share a list of recent assaults on the English language published by BuzzFeed and headlined, “23 Spelling Mistakes That Are So, So Dumb But So, So Funny”.

While I agree they are indeed so, so funny, I also find them so, so sad. 

It’s a sadness I’ve witnessed firsthand over the years as I’ve read blatant assault & battery crimes on spelling and word usage from past employees, recruits, vendors and, yes, even clients.

Here are just a few that made me laugh and cry at the same moment:

  • “Let’s stop going back-and-forth with the lawyers and end this rigor morale.” Happily, I caught this horrendous mistake before it reached the client. Our self-proclaimed “writer as a hobby” account supervisor (who left long ago) had butchered the word rigmarole and turned it into two words that, due to spell check, were readily accepted. I quickly called this would-be Hemingway aside, explained her mistake and stressed the need to first research words and phrases that were foreign to her. God knows if she listened or is causing even more rigor morale wherever she is today.
  • “I broke my teeth on media training!” A bold, if painful, response blurted out by a top executive to a prospect who had asked about our media training credentials. While the executive in question may have taken an inadvertent fall during a prior training session and dislodged some front teeth, methinks she was actually looking for the phrase, “I cut my teeth on media training.”
  • “Our proprietary system takes the grey matter out of measurement.” One can only think the synapses in this man’s grey matter weren’t firing correctly the day he uttered this abomination. Otherwise, minus grey matter, how could one even create a proprietary measurement system in the first place?

Sadly, I’ve read many other truly painful misspellings and abuses of the English language. And, it just seems to get worse with each passing year.

Many blame Twitter and texting as the root cause. I blame the toxic combination of individual laziness and a primary and secondary school system that no longer stresses the importance of mastering spelling or writing skills.

None of this would matter if one were, say, applying for a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart. But committing such atrocities in the PR/marketing world is a sure-fire way to limit one’s career path.

Or is my blog just another example of rigor morale?

Btw, PLEASE post any examples you can add to the list. I’m planning to write a book with the working title, “The Decline and Fall of The English Language” and need all the help I can get. Truth be told, I’d rather not break my teeth looking for content.

                                       ###

Nov 12

Yes, but…

Anyone who has studied improvisational comedy is familiar with the “Yes, And…” exercise. Quick plug: Every Peppercommer is familiar with Yes, And… as well as stand-up and all types of improv since we’ve been offering it as part of our training for the past decade

But, I digress.

The Yes, And… exercise forces participants to listen and improvise on the fly by hearing what’s just been said by a team partner, selecting one word and then continuing the conversation/skit by starting with, “Yes, and….”

I mention the exercise since the brand new Thanksgiving Day campaign from PETA elicited the exact opposite from me. I thought, “Yes, but…”

You can read the details for yourself in the link but, in short, PETA is asking everyone to “Be just like Trump for one day and pardon your Thanksgiving turkey.”

Obviously, the PETA marketers thought the Trump name would break through the clutter and get everyone’s attention. Yes, and….. it sure got mine (but, in the wrong way).

Which is why I’m responding by interjecting, “Yes, but why associate your brand with another brand that is the polar opposite of everything you stand for, beginning with Purpose?

Branding and engaging target audiences in authentic conversations is becoming increasingly more difficult and complex, but I think PETA is doing itself, its purpose and its many advocates a MAJOR disservice by leveraging an antithetical brand to promote their own cause.

I’m really interested in hearing what turkey and Trump lovers alike think of this ploy. So, please, put down your carving knives for one nanosecond and post a comment.

# # #

Nov 06

Do the ends always justify the means? Better ask Pam and Ed

A brand launch that could only occur in the era of Trump –

There’s fake news, misinformation and disinformation. And then there’s the completely fabricated story of Crowdsourcers Pam and Ed’s upcoming wedding on December 1st. I’ll let you read the entire chain of events in the Buzzfeed story below, but here’s the gist:

  • A few weeks ago, an apparently real couple named Pam and Ed posted a crowdsourcing request on Facebook pleading poverty and asking anyone and everyone to help make their wedding dreams come true. Well, guess what? They raised some $30,000 from unsuspecting, good natured fools.
  • Then Pam suddenly announced that, after much soul searching, the couple had decided to call off the wedding. BUT Pam said the happy couple would spend their newfound $30,000 to fund a spectacular, one-of-a-kind honeymoon. Boy, doesn’t Pam sound special? Oh, and btw, Pam indicated the couple would let everyone know when the wedding would be rescheduled so they could again help crowdfund it. Talk about hubris.
  • Needless to say, the entire online world went postal and Pam’s sob story/scam became the 14th most upvoted post of all time on r/ChoosingBeggars (Gee, what an honor). The top 13 must be very special.

Anyway, turns out the entire thing was a hoax perpetrated by a new website called Capturedit.com which describes itself as a “social media drama” site that is now searching for “Groomzilla” stories to dramatize.

So I ask you: In this era of incivility, quid pro quo’s and outright lies, where does a business/marketer draw the line? Ponder these questions:

  1. Is it fair to intentionally trick people to donate $30,000 for a fictitious wedding and then drive the crowd to a frenzy by suggesting the money wouldn’t be returned?
  2. Is that the way you would launch a business?
  3. Have things become so sleazy nowadays that this is considered brilliant marketing and not something that even P.T. Barnum would find nauseating?

I can’t say, but I sure would like to know where Pam and Ed are planning to go for their honeymoon. $30,000 can buy a whole lot of paradise. 😊

# # #

It Looks Like That Viral Story About A Bride Stealing $30,000 In Wedding Donations Was Just A Marketing Stunt

A single screengrab — and a lack of Facebook reactions — were the likely giveaways.

Last updated on November 6, 2019, at 9:48 a.m. ET

Posted on November 5, 2019, at 8:07 p.m. ET

Ljupco / Getty Images

A viral Facebook post allegedly written by a bride who canceled her $30,000 crowdfunded wedding and refused to return the money to her friends and family appears to have been fake and created as a marketing stunt to drive traffic to a new website focused on ~social media drama~.

On Monday, screenshots of the supposed Facebook post and the reactions from the bride’s family were uploaded to the subreddit r/ChoosingBeggars.

In the screenshots, a bride named “Pam” announced that she and her fiancé “Edward” were canceling their Dec. 1 wedding and not returning the $30,000 in donations they had received from their family and friends.

Reddit / joyeuxanniversaire1 / Via reddit.com

“Don’t worry, the money you’ve donated will not be spent in vain but rather used towards a honeymoon in the coming months,” Pam wrote. “After we regain financial stability and hold calm in our hearts after a honeymoon we will announce a new wedding date and re open our money fund for any further gifts. Weddings are expensive!”

Pam goes on to say that she’s updating the couple’s “gift fund registry on Amazon” for vacation gifts in case anyone wants to purchase anything for their upcoming trip, and reassures her Facebook friends that the new wedding — for which she is clearly expecting more financial contributions — is going to be “a HIT.”

In a follow-up comment, the original poster shared another screenshot that claimed to be reactions to the post from “Pam.” They’re about what you’d expect.

Reddit / joyeuxanniversaire1 / Via reddit.com

Although the names of the “commenters” are blurred out, they are identified by their relationship to the bride and groom for context — although not much context is needed, since everybody commenting is really angry.

The post blew up. It is currently the 14th most upvoted post of all time on r/ChoosingBeggars, where it was originally posted. The original poster’s comments have thousands of upvotes.

ADVERTISEMENT

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

The thread was written up by media outlets around the world.

Google News

People loved it.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

Really loved it.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

They demanded more content, more drama.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

And the original poster promised to share an update with more comments from “Pam’s” family and friends.

r/ChoosingBeggars / Via reddit.com

Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Later on Monday, more screenshots of supposed comments from “Pam’s” post appeared — but not on Reddit.

The new images were uploaded to the website CapturedIt.club. The homepage banner promised that the site delivered “social media drama.” At the time the update went up, it was the only content on the website.

 Another interesting thing? The website was brand-new. It was created Monday, the same day that the Reddit post was made.

Domain Tools / screenshot

The update included eight new screenshots of the “thread” — these, however, were all stamped with a “capturedit.club” watermark. The originals didn’t have this.

It’s also written as if the author has no direct connection to “Pam” and her “family.”

“Immediately after the post’s popularity, the Redditor was bombarded with notifications, mostly from people dying to get an update, like this guy. We feel you, Mr. Soup-yCup!” the update read on the website, using this screenshot to show how people were hungry for more drama.

But this screenshot might’ve given away more than CapturedIt.club intended.

This is a screengrab of a private Reddit chat request that Soup-yCup sent to the redditor who posted the original screenshots about the alleged greedy bride. It’s something only the person who made the viral Reddit post would see.

In other words, someone behind this viral social media marketing website apparently has access to the Reddit account that posted the original thread.

Still, these new and watermarked “updates” from the Saga of Pam were shared to different platforms, including Twitter, where they have been retweeted thousands of times.

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

Anyway, I have a reminder set cuz the person who posted it is gonna update us with 5 pages worth of comments lmao

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

Updated comment section 1

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
844 people are talking about this

Highlights from the “updated” comment thread include alleged family members vowing to sue for the return of their money.

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

Updated comments 2: #3 is the brides explanation. She needs to get beat tf up on god

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
998 people are talking about this

“Pam” also has a nervous breakdown and claims to use money from the fund to pay for her emergency medical bills.

christ on a bike’s AUDACITY@wthDARIELLE

More to come

View image on Twitter
859 people are talking about this

These watermarked “updates” made their way back to Reddit, and people there began to get suspicious about whether the whole thing was true. One person noticed that there were no reactions, likes, or dislikes in any of the screenshots — which seemed a little weird, given the content.

Further, there are no GoFundMe pages featuring a “Pam” or “Edward” for the purposes of a wedding. And despite the fact that “Pam” referenced an Amazon wedding registry in her first post, no registry could be located for a Pam–Edward wedding on Dec. 1 or any other date.

Amazon

BuzzFeed News reached out for comment and clarification to the CapturedIt website’s submissions email Tuesday morning. Soon after the request was sent, the CapturedIt website was drastically updated with a sleeker look, revamped submissions page, and a new blog post soliciting “groomzilla” stories.

According to the submissions page, CapturedIt will only accept “verifiable and compelling drama from all social media websites,” and all screenshots sent in must be uncensored.

Also, apparently, there will be a podcast?

BuzzFeed News has identified the person behind this website and reached out via multiple channels.

UPDATE

Following the publication of this story, the Reddit account that made the original post was deleted and everything on the Captured It website was taken down — except the homepage, which now features a grinning emoji and the caption, “BEN HOBBS PRANKSTERS.”

Ben Hobbs is not the name of the individual BuzzFeed News identified as the person running capturedit.club.

Oct 30

When it comes to inane (and insane) line extensions, it sure seems like this company doesn’t know s*hit from Shinola

I’ve loved everything about Shinola (www.shinola.com) since they launched with a commitment to be of, by and for Detroit. The superb watchmaker has played a small, but highly visible, role in MoTown’s slow, but sure, revival. How’s that for a higher purpose? 

But, as is often the case with successful brands, Shinola is rapidly losing track of what prompted their early success and, veering badly off course to make long-time brand advocates such as me begin to scratch our wrists and heads.

Case in point, Shinola (whose quality of leather in products ranging from wallets and briefcases to wrist bands and all sorts of unique bling) is nonpareil, just introduced a real doozie of a new product.

Hold for it.

Now available just in time for the holiday shopping season? What else but a handsome, all-leather version of the popular board game Monopoly? I say again, a leather-bound version of Monopoly. Now who at Shinola was ingesting what type of edible when this was declared a great line extension?

It’s laugh out loud absurd. With a market correction looming large on the horizon who, but a few one-percenters and Oval Office occupants, would possibly plunk down hundreds and hundreds of dollars for something like this?

And trust me, the Monopoly board isn’t the first truly bizarre line extension from Shinola.

The entrepreneurial super nova is at the cusp of eroding their incredible brand loyalty with this sort of nonsense. Is it over confidence? Hubris? Are they channeling P.T. Barnum’s belief “…there’s a sucker born every minute?”

Regardless of their intent, misery loves company and lord knows Shinola wouldn’t be the first brand to lose its way.

Beginning with the ill/fated New Coke disaster of the early 1980’s, consider these ill-conceived brand extensions from the past:

1.) In an attempt to compete with Apple’s dominant iPod MP3 player, Microsoft released the Zune in 2006. As of November 15, 2015, Microsoft discontinued all streaming, downloading, and other music services for the Zune. In the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009, Microsoft recorded a 42% decline in revenue in its non-gaming devices segment — a decline largely attributable to the Zune’s poor performance. While the device might have been a reasonable choice for consumers, a number of reported bugs did not help sales. On December 31, 2008, most if not all 30GB Zunes stopped functioning simply because the underlying code had failed to account for the extra day in leap years.

 

2.) Zippo made a perfume in a bottle shaped like a giant lighter:

https://lipglossismylife.com/2012/04/11/zippo-the-original-fragrance-review/

And I would be less than transparent in not adding that  Peppercomm has made more than one ill-conceived brand extension in our 25-year history ranging from a dotcom that opened exactly when the tech bubble burst, a licensing firm intended to provide us with new points of entry into major brands that, well, never did. A sales offering that combined the best practices of media training to help sales forces “win” biz dev pitches (but didn’t). And then there were a few acquisitions that, well, let’s just say, those were our versions of the Shinola Monopoly board.

I’ve become very gun shy of line extensions and now make sure we carefully incubate a new service before bringing it to the market.

Our Peppercomm team’s outstanding Purpose Stress Test is a great example. I bet we “tested” our stress test with at least 10 Fortune 500 CCO’s before we were confident enough to believe we were adding a smart extension to our service offering.

Oh, and one other thing for those of you who have never heard the expression, “You don’t know sh*t from shinola.” It was a term popularized by G.I.’s in WW I and directed at, who else, but their commanding officers. 😎

So, caveat marketer and agency owner alike, the line extension you may be salivating to announce could very well be the first step in eroding customer loyalty in an era when loyalty rivals fresh water and honesty as our scarcest commodity.

           ###

Sep 30

Does the PR profession care about improving its leadership?

I’m not asking that question.

Truth be told, I’m asking it on behalf of Dr. Bruce Berger, professor emeritus, advertising & public relations at The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. And his question comes in the wake of Plank’s rather sad, and quite sobering, Report Card on PR Leaders.

Before I continue, please note that, of the more than 800 respondents surveyed, 35 percent were top leaders while the remaining 65 percent were personnel at one, two or three levels below the power brokers.

The report, co-sponsored by Heyman Associates, reveals a gap between leaders and their direct reports that makes The Grand Canyon seem like a pothole in comparison.

To wit:

– Leaders gave themselves a grade of A-minus in five fundamental areas of leadership: organizational culture, leadership performance, organizational trust, work engagement and job satisfaction.

– Direct reports, however, gave their leaders a highly mediocre grade of C-plus!

Holy chasm, Batman!

This is the third such study from Plank that reveals a disturbingly growing trend that has yet to be explored by our industry press or associations.  In fact, the gaps between how leadership and those that report to them have only expanded with each subsequent report.

Rather than hazard a guess as to the why, I went directly to the source, Dr. Berger. Here’s what he said:

“The size of the gap is striking and concerning. It suggests some real issues in organizations such as a continued lack of two-way communication, limited decision-making power, diversity concerns and, according to females in the survey, organizational cultures that are less supportive of them than men.”

Bill Heyman went on to say, “In some organizations, the culture itself may present barriers to significant change. Or perhaps some of those who have the power to effect change may be the problem. Other leaders may simply not want to let go of their decision-making power. Still other PR leaders might have egos that reduce the voices of others or resist a willingness to listen to them or effect personal changes.

“Or (and this is critical in this blogger’s mind) perhaps the profession itself doesn’t actually believe their leaders have such issues, or don’t want to believe it.”

Heyman’s comment stuck me as spot-on since we find ourselves in the midst of an absolute blizzard of self-aggrandizing awards nowadays.

Where does one start? “30 Under 30”? “40 under 40”?Purposeful Persons”? “50 Most Powerful”? “50 Most Influential”? “50 Most Omniscient”?

Or how about the sudden proliferation of halls of fame? It seems like there’s a new variation on the theme being announced by a media property nearly every week.

Mind the gap

So how can we laud our profession’s leaders on the one hand while The Plank Center Report continually reinforces that there’s something very rotten in Denmark?

Before I cease and desist, I must share one other troubling finding: nearly half of the respondents said they do not belong to a single professional association. Berger and Heyman believe the reasons why include “… a growing disenchantment with some of the big associations (more words and flash vs. substance) AND employers not paying for membership.”

That is a HUGE concern in my opinion.

How can tomorrow’s leaders expand their universe of knowledge in our profession if their interest in joining professional associations is either on the wane or prevented?

It would seem to me that, while the trade media continue to wax poetic about our amazing profession and hand out more awards than New Jersey State Troopers do speeding tickets, Rome is burning.

The big question is this: What will it take for our trade journalists and association presidents to take these findings seriously and start offering insights and education that will change the direction of a very dangerous course we are on?

Let’s put the self-congratulatory awards on temporary hold and figure out what’s broken before it’s too late.

                                        ###

Sep 13

Skip-Ads. Not Blogs

Few things (aside from the nightly news) are more annoying than having to deal with Skip-Ads on “must see” video links forwarded by friends or colleagues. 

I’ve got to believe marketers can find far more cost effective ways to:

A) Engage in an authentic conversation with key stakeholders

B) Not permanently enrage target audiences to the point where they won’t even consider buying a product or service because the damn YouTube ad is preventing them from seeing what they really want to see.

As you’ll read in this Marketing Land article (which, mercifully, contains no Skip-Ads) marketers are faced with two choices:

1.) Paying audiences to watch their bogus spots.

2.) Creating lavish, spellbinding serials that sell the product or service in question and entice viewers to actually look forward to the next thrilling episode.

Good luck with the latter strategy.

Personally, I’d reallocate the ridiculous amounts of creative and production costs necessary to churn out a memorable, snackable and watchable YouTube series and, instead, spend bucks on:

– Creating relevant and shareable social media content

– Developing way cool Apps

– Engaging with credible influencers (who seem to grow fewer as the days grow shorter)

– Investing in my integrated marketing channel of choice: public relations.

As far as Option One is concerned, marketers would have to put me on a serious retainer to get me NOT to press Skip-Ad (but, note to advertisers: I’m open to entertaining your best offer).

Until then, I shall continue to skip at will (and do so with equal parts relish and disgust).

And I sure hope you didn’t hit Skip-Blog right after reading my headline.

Sep 04

What do 25 years of experience and 11 months of entrepreneurial zeal add up to? A new breed of agency

I’m beyond proud to announce that Peppercomm is marking the beginning of our 25th year in business. That’s no mean feat in any field, much less the roller coaster world of public relations. 

Rather than focus on those brutally difficult first few months in the Fall of 1995, I thought I’d instead salute three brave souls who had the gumption to retain an unknown start-up and entrust their blue-chip business with us (thereby providing the credibility so desperately important to any start-up).

So, here’s a special 25th anniversary shout out to:

  • Gary Sullivan, who at the time was chief communications office of Alexander & Alexander, a global business insurance company. Gary retained us to execute a national thought leadership campaign whose goal was to elevate the role of the risk manager within the C-Suite. The program was enormously successful and Gary took us with him when Aon acquired A&A and, later, when he joined SwissRe.
  • Valerie Di Maria, current owner of The 10 Company but, at the time, CCO of GE Capital. Valerie was looking for a creative way to re-position GE Financial (an amalgam of insurance companies the conglomerate had bought over the years) and position GEFA as THE go-to source for personal finance needs. Cutting to the chase, she invited us to compete against two global agencies for the business. We labored day-and-night to devise a breakthrough campaign that would create the GE Center for Financial Learning, a first-of-its-kind online learning center that appealed to all age groups and demographics. We won the business and maintained the relationship for over a decade.
  • Ben Case, dean of external affairs at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. I’d been fortunate to convince the Fuqua account to follow me as I jumped from one agency to another in the late 1980s and early ‘90s but I knew I’d have my hands full trying to convince Ben to assign the Top 10 B-School’s business to a start-up. We met at the Yale Club and agreed that Peppercomm would work pro bono for one month. If we proved we could still generate A-Level results, we’d continue as his AOR. If not, well you can guess what the outcome would have been. Needless to say we nailed it and eventually went on to win a Silver Anvil for the launch of Duke’s global MBA program.

Those three, blue-chip accounts transformed Peppercomm into a force to be reckoned with. And, I’m pleased to say that Gary, Valerie, Ben and I still stay in touch and are good friends.

Some 23 years later, Peppercomm underwent a seismic metamorphosis and was reborn as an entirely new breed of firm 11 months ago (Note: The firm is named in honor of my late black lab, Pepper. Hence the use of breed as a double entendre).

Today, I believe we own a positioning NO other firm in our field can match:

  • 25 years of deep category expertise
  • 11 months of an entrepreneurial drive and zeal that meets, if not exceeds, the energy and enthusiasm I experienced when I first launched my firm a quarter century ago.

And boy, oh boy, have we ever been on a roll. In just the past 90 days, we’ve begun work with the likes of trivago and Pirelli, extended our scope with BMW and engaged with two other major retailers while maintaining all of our existing blue chip clients (and being invited to pitch several other sizeable pieces of business).

I’d like to think the market is recognizing the uniqueness of the ‘new” Peppercomm. It sets us apart from every other firm and provides the two things that are front of mind for every client and prospect I’ve ever met: decades of expertise and the entrepreneurial passion that only a start-up can bring to the plate.

Today, I know that we are not only poised for limitless success, but are a far wiser and hungrier agency than the one that first entered the business world a quarter century ago.

###

Aug 12

Unforgettable

Virginia Dandridge “Dandy” Stevenson departed this world one year ago today. She may be gone, but she is most assuredly not forgotten (at least by the employees at Peppercomm and just about anyone else who had the distinct pleasure of knowing this true force of nature). 

When I wrote last Summer’s homage to Dandy’s untimely passing, I had no real idea how much I would miss everything about her.  Let me go on the record by saying, I miss everything about her.

Dandy was the heart-and-soul of Peppercomm. And trust me when I say a little piece of Peppercomm died when Dandy did.

It’s difficult to describe how important she was to me, our clients, our employees and pretty much everyone in our greater ecosystem.

I first met Dandy when she worked for Bob Druckenmiller, the former CEO of Porter-Novelli. I’m guessing the year was 2000, the absolute peak of the insanity otherwise known as the dotcom era.

Having named my start-up Peppercomm in honor of my black Labrador retriever, I inadvertently positioned my embryonic firm as a dotcom specialist in publicizing start-ups who possessed endless amounts of cash (offset by a complete ignorance as to how to become profitable).

But that was their problem, not mine. At the absolute peak of the insanity, we assigned three, full-time employees who did nothing else but field and vet the 40 or so new business calls we received every single day. It was an other-worldly moment in time that, while it lasted, propelled Peppercomm from a tiny start-up to a formidable “Go-To” firm that was on every VC’s or dotcom’s shortlist.

But I digress.

Since we were an incredibly hot property, Peppercomm was courted by larger agencies who, lacking dotcom creds, were prepared to move heaven and earth to acquire us.

Acquisition offers came in at almost the same level of frequency as the unsolicited calls from nascent dotcoms.

I was simultaneously humbled and eager to capitalize on our unique position in the market.

As a result, I took meetings with everyone from Paul Hicks at Ogilvy and GCI’s Bob Feldman to Ketchum’s Ray Kotcher/Rob Flaherty and Porter’s Druckenmiller and David Copithorne.

Cutting to the chase, I absolutely adored Druck and Copithorne (whose firm had been recently acquired by PN).

I called Ray Kotcher and told him we were going with his Omnicom-owned competitor. Ray was Ray and gracefully bowed out.

And that’s when Dandy Stevenson entered stage left.

I had retained a great life coach/business consultant by the name of Richard Harte, Ph.D.

Dick’s job was to play “bad cop” as Druck, Copithorne and I discussed multiples, whether Peppercomm would retain its name (a very big deal, btw) and what role I would play after the earn-out (btw, this was very heady stuff for a guy who had launched his two-person firm only 60 months earlier and was now salivating at the prospect of becoming an overnight multimillionaire).

In the midst of the negotiations, Dandy and I connected. While her loyalties were with PN, she would often pull me aside to tell me exactly what I’d be dealing with in terms of reporting to Druck/Copithorne and Omnicom.

Thanks in large part to Dandy’s sharing what she probably shouldn’t have shared, I was ready to sign on the dotted line.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to a house in the Hamptons and my own private jet: the dotcom bubble burst.

Omnicom froze every transaction. Druck called me and said, “Hang in. We’ll get through this and consummate the deal.”

The bubble had burst, and the firms that had been in great demand yesterday (Niehaus/Ryan, Peppercommm, etc.) became toxic in a nanosecond.

Omnicom immediately withdrew their offer.

Meanwhile, we scrambled and did our very best to quickly reposition ourselves as a corporate/Btob/financial specialist. Talk about retrofitting on the fly!

And, hold for it: Druck called me to say that he and Copithorne were being let go by the sensitive souls at Omnicom.

He asked if I could hire his now erstwhile assistant, Dandy Stevenson.

Stunned, but intrigued nonetheless, I agreed to go to Druck’s hastily-arranged farewell party.  The only people I recognized were Druck and Dandy. He suggested the Danderoo and I convene a private convo.

We did. I was smitten and realized how much professionalism Dandy would bring to what was still, in effect, a start-up (that would be Peppercomm, btw).

I easily overcame the objections of some colleagues who thought Dandy’s best days were behind her and we made The Danderoo an offer.

The rest is (or was) history.

Although she’s been gone for a full year now, I know Dandy would be beyond proud of Peppercomm’s  achievements.

We’ve won eight mega accounts in the past 90 days, been named US AOR by such global brands as Pirelli and trivago, and are poised to replicate the same rapid, double digit growth that first attracted the likes of Ketchum, Ogilvy, Porter, Edelman and god knows how many others.

I wish my mom, dad, older brother and Dandy were still alive to see Peppercomm survive and, yes, thrive.

Knowing Dandy, she’d pop open one of her patented cans of Diet Coke and say, “I knew you’d win in the end.”

Missing you big time, Dandy (and so wishing you could see what we’ve accomplished since you left). But I know you know and that’s all that matters.

Note to Repman readers: Count on an annual Dandy Stevenson homage for the foreseeable future. Some may have moved on, but I will never forget her countless contributions.

 ###

Jul 25

Jim Bouton and me

My childhood sports heroes were:

  • Joe Willie Namath
  • Walt “Clyde” Frazier
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Jim Bouton.

Yes, Jim Bouton.

He authored “Ball Four,” one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Indeed, Bouton’s Ball Four was the first real “kiss-and-tell” sports book. It was an immediate best seller and was ranked third on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 sports books of all time. Indeed, when the New York Public Library celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1995, Ball Four was the ONLY sports book included among 159 titles in the library’s “books of the century” exhibit.

I inhaled Ball Four when it was published.

Bouton’s provocative prose tore away the patina of sainthood that had been bestowed on baseball players from day one (whenever that might have been).

To borrow Howard Cosell’s signature phrase of the era, Bouton told it like it was.

He reported on Mickey Mantle’s battles with alcoholism, called Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Maris loafers and said Whitey Ford routinely scuffed baseballs to make them move in unnatural and illegal ways.

The baseball establishment saw Ball Four as pure heresy and detested Bouton for what he’d done. He was forever branded as the Benedict Arnold of the National Pastime.

But Bouton didn’t care. He was hip, cool, intellectual and a counter-culture liberal who wasn’t afraid to advocate for Civil Rights, take a stand against the Vietnam War and provide his POV on the first signs of divisiveness in our country.

I could write a book about Bouton. Instead I decided to honor his passing on July 10th by remembering my day with him in 1985.

At that time, Bouton had exited baseball but reinvented himself as a successful entrepreneur.

Knowing that little kids idolized Big League ballplayers and mimicked their every action, Bouton developed Big League Chew.

BLC was an immediate hit with kids and parents alike. In essence, Bouton shred bubble gum into tiny strips that looked exactly like the chewing tobacco that was stuffed inside the cheek and gums of almost every player.

He also created MLB-quality baseball cards for kids that were included in Big League Chew packets. I had one made for my son right after he was born. It looked just like a real baseball card and, the flip side of Chris Cody’s BLC card, contained his vital stats (22 inches long. 18 pounds. Cried right handed. Projectile vomited out of the left said of his mouth, etc.). It became an immediate family keepsake.

Fast forwarding to my encounter with Bouton, he was searching for PR firms to publicize his runaway product and visited with us.

Meeting Bouton was beyond cool. I immediately cited mega sections of Ball Four to him, asked him to elaborate on the more salacious tales and generally sucked up big time to my idol.

Bouton told my boss he wouldn’t need to meet any other firms if I could be his day-to-day lead. Talk about a walk-off home run! I was in heaven.

We had Bouton’s account for about six months and generated some decent publicity, but Big League Chew turned out to be a one-hit wonder. Sales dwindled, Bouton ended our relationship and we both went our separate ways.

I still treasure my personally signed edition of Ball Four.

As you’ll see, he signed it “Smoke ‘em inside.” That’s the advice one of his managers had provided to Bouton on how best to pitch to Frank Robinson, a future Hall of Famer, who was absolutely tearing up American League pitching in his 1969 MVP season.

Bouton’s manager, Joe Schultz, said of Robinson: “You can’t pitch him low, Jim. He’ll crush anything high and if one of your patented knuckle balls doesn’t knuckle, he’ll hit it 600 feet to dead center. Hell, smoke ‘em inside!”

Hilarious advice if you follow the sport.

I adored everything about Jim Bouton and, in my own way, tried to emulate a few of his irreverent approaches whenever I wrote about a profession that sometimes takes it far too seriously (that would be PR, btw).

In fact, I thought of Bouton a few years ago when I was being introduced as a guest lecturer at BU’s superb school of public relations. The professor, a longtime friend (and role model), said to his students, “I asked quite a few people to best describe Steve Cody in one word. Almost all said “iconoclast.” I dug that (and I’d like to think Bouton would have been proud of me for earning that sobriquet).

R.I.P. Bulldog and smoke ‘em inside!

 

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Jul 15

Untruths succeed better than truths

The words in the headline aren’t mine. They belong to the master showman, publicist and flim-flam artist of the 19th century: P.T. Barnum

I stumbled across Barnum’s highly relevant quote as I tore through a superb new book: Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous With American History.

Written through the eyes of author Yunte Huang, Inseparable not only tells the amazing tale of Cheng and Eng, but reads like a modern-day Asian American’s de Tocqueville-like tour of antebellum America.

First, some way-cool facts about the twins and their times:

  • Their early touring success in the 1830s enabled them to build a house near Mt. Airy, NC, where they not only married two local sisters, but went on to sire 10 children, two of whom fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
  • The twins saw themselves as the equals of the landed white gentry of the South and were alleged to have grossly abused the 30 or so enslaved people they owned.
  • Before Andrew Jackson sent the Cherokee Nation heading West on the horrific “Trail of Tears,” the tribe owned no fewer than 20,000 enslaved black people of their own!

Now back to P.T. Barnum.

The Bethel, Conn., native was a huckster from the very beginning.

Clerking at his father’s country store, Barnum instinctively realized he could con his customers. He came up with the idea of a lottery in which the highest prize would be $25. The minor prizes consisted solely of worthless glass and ware. The tickets sold like wildfire, and Barnum had found his passion in life: separating fools from their money.

Barnum quickly latched onto the notion of showcasing America’s curios, oddities and freaks (which sated Victorian-era America’s unquenched thirst for the salacious).

And so, he built The American Museum in New York which, in its day, was the equivalent of Disneyland. Americans from near and far saved their hard-earned money to observe:

  • Joice Heth, a toothless black woman publicized as being 161-years old and George Washington’s nurse (after she died, an autopsy revealed she was no older than 80 and had never been within 50 miles of Mt. Vernon). A classic Barnum scam.
  • General Tom Thumb, a 25-inch-tall teenager who weighed all of 15 pounds.
  • The twins (but accompanied by their perfectly “normal” grown children in order to subliminally titillate viewers to conjecture about Cheng and Eng’s sex life).

The twins became Barnum’s pièce de résistance and reinforced his instincts to continue to prey on his target audience’s willingness to be scammed by bogus attractions on the off chance they might occasionally view the real deal.

Now getting back to the untruth headline, allow me to share two other Barnum observations:

“When people expect to get something for nothing, they are sure to be cheated, and generally deserve to be.”

“Advertising is my monomania. When an advertisement first appears, a man does not see it; the second time he notices; the third time he reads it; the fourth or fifth he speaks to his wife about it; and the sixth or seventh he is ready to purchase.”

Advertising was Barnum’s version of misinformation and disinformation. Some of it was real, but most of it was smoke and mirrors.

And to tie this time travel blog back to the present, I submit a link to the Institute for Public Relations’ outstanding new study on disinformation, showing that both Democrats and Republicans view disinformation as a major problem in our culture – on par with gun violence and terrorism.

Afterword: It seems to this blogger that, as we approach the 2020 election cycle, one camp has its advertising message locked and loaded a la Barnum while the other flounders helplessly to construct a coherent, memorable narrative that will accomplish what Barnum did so many years ago.

The Democrats need a latter-day Barnum to manage their campaign. And regardless of the eventual rallying cry, the Dems could sure use the twins. They could run as vice presidents who simultaneously appeal to far-left progressive wing of the party who want free college for everyone, and the middle-of-the-road Joe Biden camp.😎

 

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