Jan 06

My apologies to Andrea

I did something yesterday that I guarantee no holding company CEO has EVER done. I swapped  42-20042220 jobs with Ray Carroll, our superb receptionist.

So, for a full day, I answered phones, made copies, welcomed visitors, modulated the temperature in the office and signed for multiple lunch orders placed by our hard-working staff (more to come on that).

It was an enlightening experience to say the least. I learned that being a receptionist can be the best of all worlds and the worst of all worlds. At its best, the job made me feel like a front-line brand ambassador empowered to make sure every person 'touching' the Peppercom brand had a positive experience.

At its worst, being a receptionist can resemble being stuck inside a video game. Phones were ringing off the hook, visitors were entering the lobby, employees were IMing requests for me to lower the heat and delivery guys were dropping off food. All at the same time! How do you spell stressful?

I'm proud to say that, with one glaring exception, I excelled in my new job. That exception, though, was a real beaut.

Right around noontime, three or four delivery guys arrived with lunch orders. I dutifully signed each receipt and began IMing the individuals to come to the front desk and retrieve their grub. Everyone responded except Andrea. That's when I realized we didn't have an Andrea working for us.
 
So, I sent an office-wide memo letting everyone know there was a free, unclaimed lunch waiting in the kitchen.

Now, fast forward 90 minutes. The elevator doors opened and in walked one of the delivery guys I'd met earlier along with a very agitated young woman. She charged up to the reception desk and barked, 'Do you have my lunch?' I smiled and said, 'And, you must be Andrea?'

Andrea (who I quickly learned works elsewhere in our building) nodded. I told her we had her lunch (happily, no one had claimed it). I went to retrieve it and handed it over with a smile. 'Where's the receipt?' She demanded. 'I used my credit card to place this order!'

I couldn't find the receipt anywhere. I remembered signing it but, with the total chaos of the moment, had lost track of it.

Andrea wasn't buying any of it. 'Look,' she said to me. 'You seem like a nice guy, but you have my credit card information.'

I assured her I wasn't an identity thief and promised to keep looking for the errant receipt. She was incredibly upset and lashed out at the delivery guy and me in heated Spanish. Not being fluent in the language, I wasn't sure what she was saying, but it certainly wasn't complimentary of my receptionist skills.

Andrea eventually left with her lunch (and minus her receipt). And, I went back to work, shaking like a leaf.

Being Ray Carroll for a day was an amazing experience that gave me all sorts of insights into the job, its critical role as part of the Peppercom brand promise and the importance of hanging onto receipts.

Oh, and what, you may ask, was Ray doing during the day? He experienced my daily existence: so, he sent several internal memos that were chock-a-block with inane, nonsensical comments. He went to the gym for a long workout. He attended various meetings and interrupted serious conversations with other inane, nonsensical comments. And, he answered my desperate IMs asking how to do his job.

So, here's a challenge to Andy Polansky, Richard Edelman, Pat Ford and all  the other CEOs of holding company PR firms: I dare you to step back from strategy, innovation and administration tasks for just one day and swap jobs with your receptionist. You'll learn things you never knew. Your receptionist will love being 'you' for a day. And, your employees will have a newfound respect for you. Just make sure to hang onto those damn receipts.

Jan 04

The Ghetto of the Workplace

Ever stop to wonder why so many companies have such poor customer service? Emily Yellin knows Loyalty3 why.

Ms. Yellin is the author of 'Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us'. It's a riveting read of all that's wrong with customer service.

She calls customer service the “ghetto of the workplace,” a twilight zone in which people are overworked, underpaid and stressed to the max. 

In her book, Ms. Yellin explains why so many organizations see customer service as a necessary evil and why so few treat it as a strategic competitive advantage. She was also nice enough to discuss the subject on a recent PepperTown Hall podcast

Yes, says Ms. Yellin, there ARE a few enlightened companies that actually stress quality over quantity and believe that customer service is the new PR. Zappos is one example. CEO Tony Hsieh made the decision to move his strategic, front-office executives to Las Vegas so they could be housed right alongside their call center peers. Why? Because Hsieh believes the phone is his “…best branding device.” Zappos receives 2 million calls a year, so the better the user experience, the more repeat customers it will have. It seems so simple. So, why do so many of us still have horrific user experiences?

Ms. Yellin says poor customer service is the direct result of an indifferent management mindset. Most companies, she says, marginalize customer service in their corporate hierarchy. They'll spend millions on branding, but a mere pittance on competent, quality-focused customer care. Is it any wonder then why there are so many loutish, insensitive CSRs?

Ms. Yellin asks how our lives would change if, say, the head of customer service at an airline or cable company was the second highest paid officer. Or, if being a customer service agent were a well-paid, coveted career position that led to office management. So far, only a few brave companies have taken those steps. But, she says, they've thrived as a result.

I'm all about improving Peppercom's customer service. We've already conducted a 'customer journey' that examined 20 separate communication touch points potential customers and other key audiences have with us. We fared well in many but fell short in others. Recognizing that customer service is, indeed, the new PR, we're making quick upgrades, though. And, we're forcing ourselves to experience Peppercom the way a prospective client or employee would.

Oh, and one more thing. I'm going to walk the talk when it comes to better understanding the experience of our most crucial customer service employees as well. I'll be sitting at the reception desk all day tomorrow. Trust me, your call WILL BE important to me.

Dec 09

An executive assistant is an underappreciated asset in any organization’s image

I’m not wild about the new monthly edition of PR Week, but I am positively addicted to Don   I_love_my_gate_keeper_mug-p1682737315052565782obaq_152 Spetner’s column. A former agency and corporate guy, Spetner today serves as EVP of corporate affairs at Korn/Ferry, the big international recruiting firm. His columns are always insightful, often funny and, in the most recent instance, a catalyst for today’s blog.

In his December column, Spetner waxes poetic about the important role executive assistants play in the health, well-being and productivity of the corporate chief executive officer. He’s 100 percent right. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and work with quite a few excellent executive assistants over the years and have always been amazed at how effortlessly they handle the most complicated schedules. They’re worth their weight in gold.

Spetner also shares strategies for winning over an executive assistant in order to gain access to the coveted C-suite. Again, his advice is spot on. What he doesn’t touch on, though, are examples of executive assistants from hell, and the impact they can have on an organization’s image and reputation.

For example, I’ve sometimes returned the call of a corporate bigwig only to be given a serious cold shoulder by the palace guard. She’ll (typically, the guard is female) ask what my call is in reference to (they always use that phrase “What is your call in reference to?” Why not a simple: “What up?”). When I say that I’m returning “Don’s’ call,” (I’ll be sure to use the bigwig’s first name to let the assistant know I’m a player), and she’ll ratchet up her attention a tad and ask, “And what organization do you represent?” I typically respond by saying, “Peppercom. But I’m also a friend.” That usually works pretty well. Seconds later, the executive assistant will return and be just as sickly sweet as can be, “Oh Mr. Cody, I am sooooo sorry for making you wait. Don will speak to you right away.”  Not that it matters in this particular instance, but Don doesn’t know his executive assistant has not exactly endeared herself to me. And, in a different set of circumstances (say, an important prospective customer call), her attitude could have been damaging.

Then there’s the power trip move by the CEO and his executive assistant from hell. I remember when one CEO in particular was courting me, he’d always have his secretary call on his behalf. I’d answer the phone by saying, “Steve Cody.” There’d be a pause and then the palace guard would announce in a deep and dramatic voice, “Please hold for Mr. Hugebottom.” Naturally, I’d have to wait a good 20 or 25 seconds before his nibs would deign to join the call. And, naturally, he’d always have me on speaker to further underscore his importance.

I’m blessed to have an executive assistant who does an incredible job of fending off office space brokers (leave me alone, Scott Brown) as well as the boiler room guys with stock tips and the suppliers who just need 30 seconds of my time. Dandy also knows how and when to apply the personal touch with clients and prospective clients. And, when it comes to family and friends, she’ll bend over backwards to make things work. In short, just like Ray Carroll, our superb receptionist, Dandy is a critical component to our overall image.

I’m not sure CEOs think about organizational image and reputation when they hire executive assistants. But, they should. As it turns out, I never succumbed to that CEO’s myriad job offers way back when. Thinking about it now, I believe his executive assistant’s boorish behavior was one of the factors in my turning thumbs down.

Dec 03

You Can Go Your Own Way

This post is dedicated to the long suffering Ann Barlow, President Peppercom West.

This is a cautionary tale about a professional services firm that exemplified a Fleetwood Mac lyric Goaway_sm_000 written with a different meaning in mind. To wit: “Players only love you when they're playing.”

The professional services firm in question has only 'loved' us when they were 'playing' at retaining a PR agency.

They first played with us three years ago. At that time, we were one of several firms to pitch the account. We were told we lost because we lacked an office in the firm's headquarters city (a criterion not mentioned once in previous meetings). Nice.

They next played us about six months ago. In the midst of a mega crisis, they asked us to attend an immediate meeting with their partners. We did so at our expense. The meeting went so well that we were asked how soon we could begin, whether we'd be available for a start-up session the following week, etc. Then, nothing. Radio silence.

More recently, the very same firm re-surfaced asking for help with search engine optimization. Being the naïve optimists that we are, we sent recommendations. Again, nothing. Radio silence.

We're done with this player. They've loved us for the last time. Borrowing from another Fleetwood Mac standard, “(They) can go (their) own way."

Nov 15

The Broken Business Bureau

Whenever Ed and I are approached by what Catharine ‘Goose” Cody would call a ‘sketchy’ new business prospect, we do one of two things: run a Dun & Bradstreet report on their financial stability and check their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Well, after viewing an unbelievable ABC 20/20 expose on the scams being perpetrated by the Better Business Bureau, I think we’ll just stick with D&B in the future.

 

According to 20/20, the BBB routinely assigns a mediocre grade to an otherwise superb business (see examples of Wolfgang Puck and the Ritz Carlton on the video) in order to extort money from them. They’ll only agree to improve the ratings if a business agrees to pay a fee to become an official member of the BBB. Talk about a  shakedown.

 

There are some jaw-dropping examples of such small businesses as Liz’s Antique Hardware being told by a BBB telemarketer they’ll have a ‘C’ rating improved if they pay $400 to do so. Liz gives the BBB her credit card information and, voila, she gets an A rating.

 

It gets worse. To prove how disreputable the Better Business Bureau has become, some computer hackers recently paid hundreds of dollars to create accounts for a fictitious ‘skinhead’ organization as well as the notorious terrorist group, Hamas. Because they paid their up-front fees, though, both received A ratings from the BBB! I wonder what grade the BBB would assign to al Qaeda? With bin Laden’s deep pockets, I’d have to believe he’d cop an A +.

 

To add further insult to injury, the president of the BBB comes across very badly in his televised interview. He’s clearly been media trained, but only up to a point. While he admits fault, he doesn’t suggest any disciplinary action for the offending employees. Nor does he say he will fix whatever’s broken in the BBB system. Nor, does he assure it will never happen again. Comforting, no? If nothing else, the BBB should fire its PR firm.

 

Since it’s a non-profit organization, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says the Better Business Bureau may have broken several laws. Not only are they forcing businesses large and small to pay for membership (and assigning quality grades based upon payment), but BBB executives are pulling down some serious personal bank as well. The CEO of the Los Angeles office earns a cool $400k annually. That’s nice work if you can get it.

 

It’s no wonder we Americans are at sea. We simply can’t trust anyone anymore. Our political leaders lie to us. Our religious leaders can agree on only one thing: that theirs is the one true religion. And, our sports and entertainment heroes are a complete mess (i.e. Tiger, Lance, Lindsay and Mel, to name just a few). And, now, one of the last remaining bastions of objectivity, credibility and consumer protection, the Better Business Bureau, turns out to be a complete scam.

 

It’s enough to make a blogger head to the nearest pub and order up a couple of pale ales with a chaser.

Oct 14

“Get your free crisis counseling! Step right this way!”

You'd think by now this battle-tested veteran of the crisis wars would be able to distinguish X14241308 between a real and fictitious lead and, in the process, avoid giving away free advice. But, clearly, some remote part of my brain still clings to the belief that prospects will do what they say and deliver on their promises. Alas, such is not always the case.

Two recent examples prove my point:

– A month or so ago, the CEO of a family-owned business was referred to me. His organization was in deep trouble. A rival faction on his board was threatening to wrest control away from the man, ending what had been nearly a century-old love affair between the company and the CEO’s family.  Listening to his plight on the phone (replete with sobbing, BTW), I went into action over a weekend. Joined by a few other Peppercommers, we dug deep into the issues, developed a strategy and submitted a plan and budget. Then… radio silence. Eventually, the CEO resurfaced to say he didn't have the funds to retain us. Case closed. Time spent helping this guy? Fifteen hours. Monies collected: none.

 - More recently, the head of a firm whose work was at the epicenter of a global firestorm on the blogosphere was referred to me. As I'd done in the previous case, I listened as the executive lamented about the damage done to date, the very real possibility that customers would bolt and the need to do the right thing ASAP. Not understanding the nuances of crisis communications, the executive asked me to hypothesize various scenarios and possible strategies. We ended a lengthy conversation by agreeing to  speak again the following morning with the organization's other top leaders and begin implementing a rapid crisis response. Once again, the silence was deafening. Time spent counseling: 1.5 hours. Monies collected:  none.

My wife suggested I stop trusting prospects to pay for my time before a contract is actually signed. Instead, she counseled I say nothing until the proverbial check is in hand. She's right, of course. She's also a lot less trusting than me (which can be a good thing).

So, the next time the circus barker cries out, 'Get your crisis counseling! Step right this way!' the adjective 'free' will be noticeably absent from the proclamation.

Sep 21

The Raymond J. Carroll School of Management

Every now and then, Ed and I get it right. By it, I mean hiring superstars. IMG_0713

We did it when we hired Lee Stechmann, our original office manager (and, we did it when we hired his successor, Catherine Mok).

We did it again when we hired a wet-behind-the-ears Edward M. ‘Ted’ Birkhahn about a decade ago. Ted is now our president and was recently named to PR Week’s 40 under 40.
But, we really hit the trifecta with Raymond J. Carroll, our current receptionist.

Calling Ray a receptionist is like calling Muhammad Ali a boxer or Mozart a musician. Ray is so much more. Since joining us a year or so ago, Ray has rocked our world. He’s beloved by clients, prospective clients, employees, vendors, and just about everyone who comes into contact with Peppercom. He’s our brand ambassador, a can-do, go-to guy who never says no to any request.

Having spent years representing the likes of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, I know the faculty and students of each could learn a lesson or two from The Raymond J. Carroll School of Management. So, why not share Ray’s POV on his job, his firm and his role as brand ambassador?

1)    You seem to have endeared yourself to everyone. What’s your advice for managing up, down and across an organization?
I reciprocate any attitudes projected toward me.  Like a mirror, I reflect what Peppercom shows me.  Life is hectic, especially professional life. Taking the time to treat people as people will establish a level of comfort.  Obviously, people have varying responsibilities, but everyone should be treated equally.  My advice for managing across an organization would be to praise good actions while analyzing and correcting counter-productive ones.     

2)    You’re our first point of contact with the outside world. What sort of experience do you want to create for each and every visitor?
I extend a cordial, accommodating presence to make people comfortable.  A receptionist should be able to provide information and/or assistance, just like a hotel concierge.  I’m attentive and I offer assistance to all guests.  In doing so, I follow the advice a friend once gave me: a lady or gentleman is a person who takes the time to be sure everyone is comfortable, and he/she always puts others before themselves.  I have this outlook outside the office as well. It’s a characteristic likely instilled by my mother and a testament to how she raised me. 

3)    Describe your job responsibilities:
To borrow a sports analogy, I’d liken myself to a utility man.  I’m willing to fill any voids necessary, for the good of the team.  From mailroom duties and moving filing cabinets to grocery shopping and changing light bulbs, I do it all. I also assist on monthly reports, and write guest blogs.

4)    How do you handle rude guests, phone callers, or fellow employees such as Ed?
Aside from Ed, I’ve yet to have an ‘encounter of the rude kind’ here at the office. That could be because my definition of “rude” is exceptional.  (please see response to question 5).  In my personal life, I believe it’s important to take the high road but also being sure a rude person’s made aware of how he or she is acting.  No one wants to be treated disrespectfully. If you gently point that out, you’ll usually see some bit of contrition (with the possible exception of Ed). 

5)    What path led you to our doors?
When I was younger, I didn’t have much patience for office life. In fact, my few attempts at it were short lived. I may have just needed more action in my day. That said, I’ve now accepted that ‘slow and steady’ wins the race.

Career wise, I’d tended a bar for nearly a decade, held some off-the-book construction jobs, a variety of temp work, and even a job at Yankee Stadium’s money room thumbing through George Steinbrenner’s dirty cash.  Tending bar exposed me to many of life’s negative elements, which became fine examples of which routes not to follow.  The variety of bar cliental exposed me to some decent, but mostly animalistic, conduct (rude was redefined here).  In all jobs it was a necessity to establish a rapport with folks I wouldn’t necessarily have much in common with. that said, each of these positions opened my eyes a quite bit. I’ve worked with persons from all walks of life.

6.) What are your professional goals?
My goal is to build a professional relationship that will afford my family and me comfortable lives.  Simply stated, I need to provide happiness for others. And, in this world isn’t, happiness doesn’t come for free.  That said, it’s in my best interest to establish myself while proving myself worthy of long-lasting employment. I believe every new day in life leads to improvements.  Learning and growing in both professional and personal realms is my life’s objective. 

7.) What’s your number one piece of advice for any brand ambassador at any organization?
Live your brand, walk the walk and talk the talk.  If you’re in a service industry, serve like no other.”

How’s that for a 30-second M.B.A.,?

Sep 10

Would you have kept Peggy working late?

The most recent episode of AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ probed even deeper into the exceedingly dark side Office-window-sam of Don Draper (nee Dick Whitman).

In last Sunday’s episode, ad man extraordinaire Draper worked late into the night to develop new strategies for a Samsonite Luggage campaign. Not content to suffer alone, Don forces his creative aide de camp, Peggy, to work right alongside him. The endless evening ends up costing Peggy a surprise party thrown by her soon-to-be-erstwhile boyfriend (but draws her closer to Don in some very interesting ways).

I’ve never been a fan of making people stay late into the night. It’s abusive. It speaks poorly of the organization. And, it will eventually impact image and reputation.

That said, I’ve heard of more than one PR firm, especially those in the technology space, who suggest their employees leave the office at 6pm, gobble down a quick dinner and then return to complete their assignments. That’s brutal. I’ve heard of other firms that use the ‘West Coast’ excuse to keep East Coast employees working well past 8:30pm. That’s also bogus. And, then there are the corporate versions of Don Draper’s “keep ‘em late and make ‘em sweat” management style. In Jacked Up: The inside Story of How Jack Welch Talked GE into Becoming the World’s Greatest Company, author Bill Lane says the entire corporate office staff was afraid to leave for the day before their chief had. This was problematic since Mr. Welch seldom departed before 7pm. He knew others feared him, wouldn’t dare leave before he did and, either didn’t care about inconveniencing them or enjoyed the rush that went along with controlling other people’s lives.

We once had a mini version of Jack Welch working at our firm. This guy’s office was conveniently located right by the elevators. So, he’d naturally spy anyone who was skulking out while he was still slaving away. After hearing about the issue, we sat down with the executive (and his reports). We found that he tended to while away his time during normal working hours and, for whatever reason, didn’t really roll up his sleeves until late afternoon. As a result, he’d set meetings that began at 5 or 5:30, mete out assignments and then expect his direct reports to stay and finish their work before leaving. Rather than suffer a palace revolt (I’ve always believed that people quit people. They don’t quit businesses.), we had our strategy consultant work with the executive to help him better organize his day. We ended up keeping our people, but losing the executive to a corporate gig (which was a win-win in my book).

Because of the nature of our business, we still have people who, because of a client crisis or over servicing on our part, stay later than they should. When they do, we try to either intercede or, at the very least provide transportation home and compensatory time off. But, we’re far from perfect.

There are many different ways to manage an organization. Draper’s approach may work in the short-term, but I’ve rarely seen it work over the long haul (unless an employee completely defines himself by his work and thrives on a steady diet of 24×7). I can’t speak for Welch’s management style since I never experienced it first-hand. But, I know we don’t want executives who, intentionally or unintentionally, make their employees stay late. Life’s way too short (which I hope Don Draper figures out sooner rather than later).

Aug 19

The case of the missing luggage

I’m not sure if it was my Russian adventure, the impending 15th anniversary of Peppercom or Doc_suitcase some late Summer malaise, but I’ve been flooded recently by obscure memories (i.e. the crazy client who insisted we become 18 percent diverse or else, the ill-fated pool party, etc.).

My dusty synapses fired up once again the other day when I spied a PR news brief announcing that a certain luggage company had retained a new PR firm. You see, Ed and I knew this company once upon a time. We knew it very well.

Nearly two decades ago, we toiled for a now defunct, integrated marketing shop called Earle Palmer Brown. EPB was the antithesis of our other employer, Brouillard (i.e. if the latter resembled the Politburo, the former was more akin to what Ed’s charming and vivacious wife, Pamela, liked to call ‘Romper Room.’). The inmates ran the asylum at EPB. And, because, Ed, Bill Southard (our boss) and I were bringing in loads of new business, we were pretty much allowed to indulge any and all excesses.

All of which brings me back to the luggage company. At the time, they were a client on the advertising side of the office. In order to create ads for the client, our ad group needed to photograph the product. So, they grabbed an unused storage room and filled it with the latest, greatest stuff (note: the luggage was also loaned to art directors and photo editors of style magazines for use as props in their shoots).

One day, when the account manager was away on vacation, someone in the PR group secured a key to the product storage room. Needless to say, it emptied out faster than a disappointed group of Mets fans leaving CitiField. Everyone grabbed one, two or more items of their liking. It was positively Bacchanalian in its excess.

Now, fast forward to the following week when the vacationing account guy returned, unlocked the product loan door and went totally ballistic. He sent an agency-wide note letting everyone know about the theft, suggesting he knew exactly who had taken it (our rollicking PR group had built quite an image and reputation by then) and declared that no questions would be asked if the merchandise was promptly returned. Sad to say, it wasn’t. The account guy complained to senior management, who promptly told him to back off. He did a little dance with the client and told them uncooperative art directors and photo editors had refused to return the product loans. Amazingly, the room was quickly restocked and the office returned to its normal state of complete bedlam.

In retrospect, the case of the missing luggage is an interesting morality tale. It spotlights the reality that far too many management teams ‘overlook’ inappropriate behavior from solid performers. Just look at Wall Street or Enron or BP. Moral and ethical behavior routinely takes a back seat to profits (which is why we’re seeing such a plethora of crises). At EPB, the PR group were the high rollers, so no one was going to mess with us about a few missing garment bags.

I’d like to think that Ed and I took the best and worst of what we experienced at EPB and Brouillard, and created a happy medium at Peppercom. It also helps that we haven’t represented luggage manufacturers and been tempted to ‘borrow’ a sleek, black briefcase or two.

We’re older and wiser now (even if Ed hasn’t aged particularly well). And, I’d like to think we’d crack down hard and fast on any behavior remotely resembling the Romper Room days of EPB- which should be good news for any luggage manufacturers out there in search of PR agency support. Your bags are safe with us.

Aug 16

Don Draper rocks

Don Draper, the fictional lead character in AMC's breakout hit, 'Mad Men,' just did what every PR Mad-men-office and ad agency executive pines to do just once in a career. In a recent episode, he threw two executives from a prospective client out of his office. Draper did so because the Jantzen swimwear executives refused to see the strategic business sense in Don's suggested creative campaign. The fearful Jantzen guys, not wanting to upset their conservative target audience, were afraid of Draper's provocative ad and told him so (and what a brutal product placement for Jantzen, whose swim suits remain amazingly modest, BTW. I checked).

Draper stormed out of the conference room, thought about it for a second, and then stormed back in to tell the Luddites to immediately get out of his office. It was breathtaking to watch (and, might I add that this is stuff of which dreams are made).

I don't know how many times I've wanted to toss a rude, boorish or indifferent prospect out of our conference. You know the types:

– The self-absorbed prospects who bang away on their Blackberries while you pitch.
– The ones who are totally evasive about their budget (“Why don't you tell us what you think it will take?”). Prospects who don't know what their budget is shouldn't be seeking PR support
– The marketing executives who, after telling you category expertise isn't important, interrupt your presentation to ask, ”So, that's it? That's all the category experience you have?”

There are many, many more examples.

The beauty of Mad Men is its spot-on accuracy. In addition to dealing with maladroit prospects, Don's nascent firm also has to walk on egg shells for their biggest client, Lucky Strike cigarettes, which commands 71 percent of billings. The Lucky Strike client knows he can belittle and berate his agency, so he does.

The Lucky Strike guy reminds me of a huge client of ours from long ago and far away. This particular master of the universe boasted that he'd give us a $10 million budget with which to work. He also immediately applied the pressure, knowing he was indeed, for one brief, dark moment, our largest client. His particular mission in life was to force diversity on the profession. So, right after hiring us, he gave us an ultimatum. Prove that our staff was at least 18 percent minority-based, or risk losing his business within the year. (Note: that's one tough mandate in an industry that remains as lily white as ours).

Anyway, my business partner, Ed, rose to the occasion with some amazing legerdemain and convinced this bizarre client that Peppercom was, in fact, 18 percent diverse. (I think Ed counted left-handed employees and New Jersey residents as minorities).

Long story made short, the big shot client was fired less than a year after his hiring, and has bounced around from one job to the other since.

We're a bit older and wiser now, and make sure no one client dominates too large a percentage of our billings. That's somewhat easier when your firm is an established, 15-year-old midsized business. That isn't the case for Don Draper's upstart agency and it certainly wasn't the case in Peppercom's embryonic days.

While he may have many dark sides and hidden agendas, I love the way Don Draper manages new business prospects. As his partner, Roger Sterling, said in the same episode, “My father told me advertising would be a great business if it weren't for the clients.” I'd change that to read, 'PR would be a great business if it weren't for the abusive prospective clients.’