May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

Apr 05

Can you spot the ancient ad that’s more relevant than ever?

Pic19912Pic17035This blogger’s older brother constantly bombards me with videos, tunes and other memorabilia from the distant past. I’m not sure exactly why he sends me these things, but most end up in my virtual wastebasket. This one containing the ads pictured, however, struck a chord.

As you’ll see, it contains a number of print advertisements from a bygone era. It’s hard to say which is more politically incorrect. But, there’s one ad that, sadly, is as relevant today as it was when it first appeared a half century ago. Let me know if you agree about the ad in question, and we’ll go back-and-forth on why this particular ‘wrong’ is more ‘right’ than ever before.

One other observation: these print ads from yesteryear are amazingly patronizing and condescending towards women. I find it fascinating that today’s advertisements and commercials have come full circle with many, if not, most, equally demeaning to men (i.e. portraying us as dumb, helpless creatures always in need of a woman to show us how to Pic25667survive, etc.).Pic14771Pic01869Pic26299Pic21726Pic23811       Pic26299  Pic11538

Mar 31

Keep the cheater, not the loser

Today's guest post is by Emily Simmons, (pictured) Graduate Assistant for Student Media, Student Life Organization, College of Charleston.

EmilyRight about now former University of Tennessee Men’s Head Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl is probably regretting working without a contract for the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season. Monday rumors were confirmed that Donald Trump’s famous words fell upon Pearl’s ears: “You’re Fired!”
In October, RepMan reported on Pearl’s September press conference, in which he announced committing NCAA recruitment violations, and apologized to the public. During the press conference UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton stated the University had imposed self-sanctions against Pearl and his staff, resulting in limited recruitment and coaching privileges, along with deduction in pay. Pearl sat on the sidelines of eight SEC games, likely spending much of that time saying his prayers that he was going to hold onto his job a little bit longer.

But during the infamous press conference, Hamilton and UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek confirmed that in light of Pearl’s confession, the University would stand behind its fearless leader. “We sat down at the very beginning and thought ‘what is our ultimate goal?’ We want Bruce Pearl to be our basketball coach; short of data showing we have to do differently, we’re going to go into this with him being our basketball coach,” Hamilton said during an interview with Knoxville station WBIR in October. Pearl’s firing came following a disgraceful 30-point loss to University of Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament; so was Hamilton saying the University would stand behind him if he was a cheater, but not if he was a cheater and a loser?

Pearl’s termination came as no surprise to the sports world, considering one week prior to the announcement Hamilton went on a local radio station claiming Pearl’s job was on the line. Two days following Hamilton’s slip of the tongue, UT found itself embarrassed and out of the tournament following Michigan’s landslide win against the Volunteers.  So what went wrong that caused this sudden shift in administrative support for Pearl? Was it the Michigan loss, rumored reports of additional NCAA violations, or had the University been planning this all along?

One month following the September press conference, Pearl’s contract was terminated, and administration announced the University was in the process of drafting a new contract for Pearl. Pearl’s former contract, according to ESPN Reporter Andy Katz, was said to be airtight. One clause protected Pearl from termination during an NCAA investigation, and only allowed action for removal to be taken following NCAA sanctions. Reports claim that Pearl continued contract negotiations over the following months, and never quite made it to signing the dotted line, a result of disagreements in the contract’s terms. But with Hamilton’s and Cheek’s public acknowledgment that his job was safe, there didn’t seem to be any threat to Pearl’s job, right? Well, as the old saying goes, “Put it in writing.”

It’s safe to say that the crux of this story has nothing to do with the NCAA violations themselves, but simply the PR mess UT has gotten itself into over the past two years. Administration announced prior to the “resignation” of former UT Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer that his job, too, was on the line. Hamilton then hired Lane Kiffin, the first coach not from the SEC to lead the Volunteers into a losing season, who left less than one year into his contract. The Athletic Director then publicly acknowledged support of Pearl following accusations of NCAA violations, only to throw him under the bus two days prior to UT’s game in the NCAA Tournament, and then fire him with little to no explanation. In light of Hamilton’s inconsistent leadership, it’s likely that UT won’t be losing any recruits resulting from NCAA sanctions soon to be placed on the athletic program, but rather due to the lack of administrative support and transparency the University is portraying.

Saturday the University named Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin as UT Men’s Head Basketball Coach. While Martin begins to rebuild the basketball program’s image, it will be interesting to see how the University moves forward to repair its own image. One thing’s for certain: if they hire Pat Summitt to coach all sports and run the Athletic Department they’ll be making their first smart move in years.

Mar 10

Law? What Law?

This is the second of two transportation centric posts and was written by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

This certainly isn’t a scientific study by any means, but I can confidently estimate that 90 percent of all the New York City cab drivers I’ve encountered over the past few months seem to New-york-cabbie-taxi-driver-on-cell-phone forget (or conveniently ignore) the law that bans cell phone use while driving (even hands-free).  What can be so important that cab drivers have to consistently talk on their phones?  Any other person making personal calls all day at work would be fired.

The law has not stopped cab drivers from using their phones, hands-free or otherwise.  It actually seems as if the problem is getting worse.  And, the drivers honestly don’t care.  They think that you, as a passenger, either can’t hear them or you don’t care if the driver is distracted and happens to crash into the car in front or completely misses your stop.

Every time my husband and I encounter someone on the phone, we immediately inform him/her that it’s against the law.   The driver usually shrugs his shoulders, says he knows and, after dropping us off, moves on to the next passenger who is forced to play Russian Roulette with his/her life unless the passenger insists the driver stop talking on the phone. 

A year ago, my husband contacted the Taxi and Limousine Commission (T.L.C.) about a different incident.  The T.L.C. asked my husband to describe the driver, although my husband had the receipt with the taxi number.  All the T.L.C. had to do was to check to see which driver was in the cab at the time indicated on the receipt.  No, that was too easy.  The T.L.C. then asked my husband how tall the cab driver was.  “How tall?  He was sitting down!”  Needless to say, because my husband didn’t ask the driver to get out of the car and check his height with a measuring tape, the case went nowhere.  You can’t make this stuff up. 

Then, this past weekend, I blew up.  We were in a cab headed home, when my husband looked over into the front seat because something didn’t look right.  The cab driver wasn’t on the phone, but he was texting while driving!  Obviously, the law covers texting as well.  As much as I can’t tolerate a cab driver being on the phone, texting really pushes me over the edge.  The driver apologized, admitted he knew about the law– as they all say they do– but just shrugged his shoulders.  We could call the T.L.C. again, but after my husband’s last experience trying to reason with the T.L.C., it’s not worth it.

In March 2010, The New York Times reported that New York City taxi drivers “gouged riders out of millions.”   So, perhaps the T.L.C. couldn’t deal with my husband’s complaint last year because it was dealing with a major issue that was clearly impacting its image. 
Image?  Did I say image? 

Speaking of which, last November, the T.L.C. issued a new and improved dress code for the cab drivers in New York City.   “Proper dress is not something that we can enforce very easily,” said David S. Yassky, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Nonetheless, we want to communicate to drivers that there is a standard of behavior, and that’s what the rule should get across.”

Yes, of course, we must be sympathetic to the T.L.C.’s plight of trying to enforce a dress code.  If they can’t enforce a dress code easily, how can we possibly expect them to enforce the correct rates or enforce no cell phone use while driving?  And, it’s really nice to know how much the T.L.C. cares about its image and has its priorities in the right order.

Unfortunately, I fear it’s going to take a fatal accident– or accident – and a multimillion dollar lawsuit– or multiple lawsuits– against the City and the T.L.C. to get them to take passengers’ complaints seriously and enforce the law (the one about no cell phone use while driving…not the one about the clothes).  But, if the cab driver crashes, hopefully he’ll at least look good when the police show up. 

T.L.C. should no longer stand for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but rather The Law is of no Consequence.

Feb 10

Congressdog Mick Cody resigns after posting ‘inappropriate’ photo on RoversList; Apologizes for ‘mistake’ but says it will ‘elevate’ his image in long run

Lincroft, NJ, February 10, 2011-  Congressdog Mick Cody (C-NJ) announced his resignation today  Mickens in the aftermath of a scandal created when he posted an 'inappropriate' photograph of himself on the popular animal social website, RoversList.

The political brouhaha broke late Wednesday when an unidentified feline blogger released a full transcript of her e-mail dialogue with the Congressdog. Photographs of a topless Mick were attached to one of his e-mails.

In one e-mail exchange with the cat, Mick described himself as “… a single, five-year-old, 35-pound stray who digs bones and boney felines.” Information provided on the Congressdog's website shows the pit bull terrier is actually eight years old, weighs 50 pounds, and lists Cody's younger brother, Rooney, as his “life partner.”

Cody rose to political prominence in the aftermath of the Michael Vick/pit bull scandal. Along with Rooney, Mick created the Conservative Canine Coalition and ran for Congress as a “genuine Beltway outsider” who promised to literally “bite the hand of any politician advocating for deficit spending.”

Reached for comment in between episodes of his favorite Animal Planet show, ‘It's Me or the Dog,' Mick seemed resigned to his resignation.

“Sure, I made a mistake,” he snarled. “I apologize to my family, my constituents and my breed. But, this was pure entrapment by that feline activist group.”

The former Congressdog insists he was lured to RoverList's by a feline blogger known as Kitty Whiskers. “She said she could deliver the cat vote in the upcoming midterms,” whined Cody. “Then, she said if I wanted, she could deliver a whole lot more than that. That's like dangling raw meat in front of a red-blooded pit bull like me.”

A spokescat for Forever Felines, the cat advocacy group, denied any knowledge or involvement in the incident. “We're independent creatures and would never lead on a member of another species, especially pit bulls. Yuck!”

Mick Cody sees a silver lining in what would seem to be an otherwise dark cloud. “This will elevate my image in the long run. In fact, the phone's already ringing off the hook with offers from reality TV shows. Bravo's 'Real Housedogs of New Jersey' has expressed interest. So has MTV's 'Six Months and Pregnant.' The Congressdog indicated he's also been offered a continuing role in ‘Parker Spitzer’. “They want me to sit on the governor's lap during the show and howl whenever I agree with something he's said,” added Cody.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Canine Coalition said their leader's spectacular flameout will not deter the group's future. “We'll miss Mick and wish him well, but there are 50 million dogs out there who need representation,” said Spike Drool.

Rooney Cody did not return calls from this blog.

Feb 08

The Maritel bucket

This blog is dedicated to Peppercommers Deb Schleuter-Brown-Schleuter and Jackie Kolek.

Ever find yourself at the bottom of the Maritel bucket? I'll bet you have; you just use another  Old_bucket phrase to describe the experience.

We find ourselves at the bottom of the Maritel bucket every few years. It's just happened in fact. We were awarded a nice piece of business in December, finalized the plan over the holidays and were about to kick things off when, hold onto your hats, we were told we had to pitch the business all over again. It was a classic Maritel bucket scenario: You win an account only to be told a few minutes, days or weeks later that, no, in fact, you didn't win the account after all.
The Maritel bucket phrase originated in those hallowed, halcyon, shoot-from-the-hip dotcom days. A firm by the name of Maritel contacted us one morning, requested a meeting early that same afternoon and called to award us a sizable piece of business before 5 pm. They then called back to say someone had made a terrible mistake and, that Maritel had no interest whatsoever in public relations. The absurdity of the whole experience was so extreme that it became memorialized as the Maritel bucket.
 We've had other bucket experiences:
– A huge chemical company's SVP of human resources adored us and was in the process of handing us all of the corporation's internal communications and collateral work. The plans and budgets were approved and we were set to go. But, suddenly, 'John' stopped returning our calls. A week later, we called the main line to discover he'd been terminated. Bye-bye million dollar program.
– A technology company that provided software for Wall Street was poised to spend lots of money to overtake SunGuard, the market leader. And, the new marketing guru had chosen us. We got off to a strong start, attended several meetings and then, poof, our contact was gone. A day or two later, an executive called to say 'Randy' had had no authority to hire us, had  been terminated and oh, by the way, they'd like their money back. With a signed LOA, time sheets and status reports to prove we'd done the work, they backed off.

– The SVP of marketing for a Scient, Sapient, Razorfish wanna-be hired us to the tune of $35k per month. Their marketing goal: to do and say exactly what the front runners did so that they, too, could go the IPO route and retire as multimillionaires. They not only never paid us for our three months of work, but demanded their money returned with interest. They then went belly up.
I'd love to create some sort of industry-wide Maritel bucket hall of shame (and would welcome your case studies, BTW).
In fact, the Maritel bucket could become a catch-all phrase for a new category in all the PR industry awards programs (“And, this year's Maritel bucket winner for the worst abuse of a PR firm goes to …”).
Ask not for whom the Maritel bucket waits. It waits for thee.

Feb 07

Sorry, but this is my elevator

Erstwhile Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal had his own private elevator at corporate headquarters. Fatcat-banker-1 After being deposited at a separate, ground floor entrance by his liveried driver, Mr. O'Neal would stroll into 'his' elevator and zoom upwards to his world-class corner office on the 32nd floor. When he was done mastering the universe for the day, good ol' Stan would take a few steps, push the elevator button, descend down and be met by his driver.  All in all, not a bad day. 

But, O'Neal was canned after racking up some $30b in toxic assets and trying to sell Merrill without the board's knowledge. He was replaced by former NYSE CEO John Thain who, upon hearing of O'Neal's private elevator, declared it “…ludicrous.” Thain wanted to demonstrate his Midwestern, common man roots, so he began riding up and down in the same elevators as the hoi palloi. Goodness gracious! Such sacrifice. 

Ah, but according to Greg Farrell's page-turning 'The Crash of the Titans,' JayThay was no slouch himself when it came to excess. Along with his PR henchwoman, Margaret Tutwiler, Thain completely gutted O'Neal's corner office and refurbished it to the tune of $1.2m (all this while Merrill was capsizing under a crushing debt). JayThay's also the stand-up dude who decided to pay all the Merrill executives huge, year-end bonuses with government TARP monies. That sly maneuver cost him his job when Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who had just bought Thain's Merrill at a fire sale price, found out.

I miss the wanton greed of those egomaniacal Wall Street CEOs of yesteryear. I'm sure the current crop still buy themselves $4,000 commode seats and $100,000 area rugs, but the Kublai Khan types such as O'Neal, Thain and convicted felon Dennis Kozlowski, seem like a distant, if fond, memory.

So, in an effort to fill the breach and re-position PR executives as masters of the universe in our own right, I've decided on the following:

– A full-time butler. Sure, I'm dressed in business casual most of the time, but one never knows when a suit-and-tie prospect will come a knocking. And, I'll need Jeeves on the payroll to assure I'm neatly pressed and ready to impress.
– My own elevator. I may only travel five floors, but I need to make a statement.
– A full-time assistant for my assistant. O'Neal and Thain each had multiple assistants to assist their other assistants, so why can't I? Effective immediately, Dandy assumes the title of executive vice president (hey, if Margaret Tutwiler could hold that title at Merrill, and be responsible solely for “…burnishing John Thain's image,” then so can Dandy). Hey Dandy, maybe Mags could be your assistant? She may be in need of employment.
– A liveried driver behind the wheel of a Maybach. Thain paid his driver $225k, plus bonuses for overtime. That seems fair. I'm tired of cabbies. A master of the universe needs coddling. But, I'll call my driver Jimbo, instead of James. I also need to project a more down-to-earth image and Jimbo seems more accessible.

I have many more wants and needs but, based upon the outrage caused by the excesses of Messrs, O'Neal, Thain and Kozkowlski, I'm guessing I'll only have about 10 months or so before being kicked out and handed a golden parachute similar in size to theirs (say, $187 million, or so).

Edelman and Weber may be vying for “the World's Largest Agency”, but I'll be content with being named “the World's Most Exorbitant.” Note to the various awards' programs: that might make for a nice, new category.

Jan 13

The differences couldn’t be more striking

Officialportrait 20091122013824!Sarah_Palin_official_portrait I'm becoming more convinced with each passing day that Barack Obama will win re-election in 2012.

For one thing, he's finally awakened and is now followed Bill Clinton's proven 'centrist' strategy.  More importantly, though, his statesmanlike words and actions in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting spree stand in stark contrast to those of his number one contender in 2012.

Last night, Obama called for a new era of civility (and, good luck with that, Mr. President.) Meanwhile, the erstwhile Alaskan governor and slayer of moose, elk and god knows what else chose, instead, to stir the hate talk with even more hate talk. Palin accused TV commentators and journalists of “blood libel” in their rush to blame Palin-inspired, Tea Party-generated hate speak for the murders.

In the process, Palin somehow managed to make a bad situation even worse by outraging Democratic lawmakers, fellow Republicans and Jewish groups with her use of the expression “blood libel”. According to a New York Times, the term was originally coined by anti-Semites in the Middle Ages who blamed Jews for killing their Christian children. Palin, who is positively clueless about history, American or otherwise, obviously had no idea of the term's historic and demeaning origins.

The Republican Party needs to start distancing itself from their momma grizzly and find a centrist candidate who has some grip on reality, a sense of history and an ability to project statesmanlike leadership in a time of crisis. What they don't need is someone like Palin, who seems limited to vitriolic, malaprop-laden, mumbo-jumbo.

As someone who studies image and reputation, I think the aftermath of the Tucson shootings reveals the stark differences between the two leaders.

One is calm, measured and able to seize the opportunity to redirect a nation that is slowly splitting apart at the seams. The other reverts to form, hunkers down in her Wasilla bunker and stirs up a new, news cycle with her unfortunate anti-Semitic remarks.

The differences couldn't be more striking.

Dec 22

Typhoid Mary-types need not apply

I enjoy reading employee e-mails saying they're 'sick as dogs' and will be working from home. Mind Typhoid-mary you, I'm not a sadist. Instead, I'm proud of the fact our employees know enough to stay home, take care of themselves and, critically, not spread their germs like some latter-day Typhoid Mary.

According to the fine folks from HALLS cough drops, though, my POV is unique. A survey they've just released says most Americans will still consider showing up to work when sick. A staggering 44 percent will go to work with a fever while almost a third will show up no matter HOW sick they get. (Ugh. Stay away from this blogger.)

Fear is driving this maniacal work-at-all- costs mentality. One in five HALLS survey respondents feel pressure by their boss or supervisor to head into work when they're ill. One in three say they wouldn't get paid for taking off for a sick day. And, more than 10 percent thought they wouldn't receive their next pay raise, promotion, or worse, if they stayed in bed (how positively Dickensian).

This is insane!

We make a big deal about worker health and productivity, and sometimes have to force people to go home if they're sneezing and hacking. We've actually had to stage interventions with certain maniacal workers who felt it more important to work than rest and recuperate.

I'm not sure if the HALLS results reveal a false perception on the part of employees or a genuine 'work at all costs' mentality on the part of management. If it's the latter, it's shortsighted, destructive and, ultimately, counter-productive. And, it will also adversely impact an organization's image and reputation (“Boy, those people at Moed Pharmacy show up for work even if they've got walking pneumonia. No way I ever work there.”).

So, send your sick employees home ASAP before they can infect the entire workforce. Communicate a stern message that employees who show up sick at work will be summarily turned around and sent home. Or, simply post a sign in the reception area and web site that reads: 'Typhoid Mary-types need not apply."

Nov 29

A holding company by any other name would still be a holding company

I chuckle whenever I see, hear or read the latest double talk from one of the advertising world's Puppet2.s600x600 holding companies.

On the one hand, they try to convince anyone who will listen that size trumps all. They'll pontificate at length about the importance of breadth and depth, and the need for 35 offices around the world to service global clients.

But, because their traditional advertising models are relics of the past, they'll also try to convince you they're as lean and mean as any independent midsized firm in the world. Ha! Baloney.

Monday's advertising column in the New York Times is a classic example of holding company double talk. BBDO, one of the true monolithic, mega agencies of the advertising world, just created a small, 20 employee consulting unit called Batten & Company.

It's named after George Batten, one of the 'B's' in BBDO. BBDO said it chose Batten, as opposed to Barton, Durstine or Osborne (the other 'B,' 'D' and 'O' in BBDO, respectively) because Mr. Batten was more entrepreneurial. Double ha! As if a holding company (or a unit thereof) could ever be truly entrepreneurial.

The dirty little secret about holding companies (and their units) is that they serve two clients: the holding company and the client (and woebetide the holding company employee who doesn't recognize the holding company is the more important of those two clients).

Clients are billed twice. There's one invoice for the work provided and, as I can personally attest, a management fee that's added for the holding company in London, Paris or wherever.

When one serves in a senior management position at a holding company, one is consumed with meeting the financial and administrative needs of the holding company (and, oh yeah, also providing occasional counsel to the largest client).

Holding companies try to lure our people away by using lines such as this: “Hey kid. You've done well. But, now it's time to play in the big leagues.” Triple ha!

What they don't tell you about the big leagues is how totally devoid they are of true George Batten-like entrepreneurship. A BBDO may carve out a small, nimble, client-focused consultancy. But, trust me, that little consultancy has to play by the same rules, and tack-on the same overhead fees, as any other member of the holding company. It would be akin to the old Soviet Union spinning off a small republic, saying it had the same freedoms as any democracy, but still had to toe the line with the Kremlin.

I wish Batten & Company well. But, I also wish the holding companies would stop trying to be all things to all people. They should embrace their worldwide footprints and be done with it.

I'd like to think George Batten would agree that, suggesting a holding company's new unit will be as entrepreneurial as, say a certain blogger's PR firm, qualifies as false and misleading advertising.