Jul 18

New Life in the ER

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Deb Brown.

Epidemic-nml The average hospital always promises one thing in its branding – such as exceptional care and  genuine compassion – but then rarely (or never!) delivers on that promise.   And, the emergency department seems to be the weakest link in any possible branding and the one area I dread most about any hospital. Unless you’re profusely bleeding from a major artery, chances are you’ll end up waiting hours (maybe even days!) before you’re even seen. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised with the changes that NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC recently made.  This past Thursday evening, my husband and I went with our adult son to the emergency department at NYU.  He had a condition that needed immediate medical attention but would not be considered life-threatening (thank goodness!) in order to be seen right away.  I was preparing myself for a very late night and was hoping we’d get home before sunrise.

When we walked into NYU’s ER, the first thing I noticed was no chaos.  Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share of times in the emergency department, and your head starts to spin with the chaos, craziness and overcrowding.  But, this time, it was shockingly different.  It was quiet. Was I no longer in NYC?  They immediately had my son talk to the triage nurse and my husband and I sat down.  I noticed the chairs were completely different as well.  They were new chairs and, surprisingly, really comfortable.  Well, I thought, that’s good since we’ll probably be stuck here for hours.

My son sat down with us and we prepared to wait.  But, only after a few short minutes, they called his name.  We followed a gentleman down a long corridor to another wing in the hospital.  We were going to “Fast Track” – another area for less seriously ill or injured patients who would be seen right away versus waiting for hours.  Really?  I couldn’t believe it…this new area was also quiet and very organized.  My son was seen after a few minutes, and the doctor was terrific.  He spent a good deal of time with my son and was very compassionate.  We were in and out of the emergency department in about an hour-and-a-half.  Trust me… that’s record time and I was amazed.

So, kudos to NYU for reorganizing their emergency department to make triage more efficient and to prevent long hours of waiting for those who need medical attention but are not considered to be in a life-threatening situation.  We actually had a good experience in the emergency department, which I realize sounds like an oxymoron.  But, it’s not.  My perception of what an ER could be like has completely changed…for the better.  NYU eliminated the chaos, overcrowding and long hours by completely separating the serious from the less serious cases.  It seems so simple and obvious, but I’ve never seen this done before.

This experience was particularly interesting to me, both as a public relations professional and as a consumer.  At Peppercom, we conduct a proprietary audience experience audit for clients, which allows them to truly understand their brand’s experience in their customers’ shoes.  I would never even think to equate the word good and, even in this case, exceptional with an ER.  However, NYU is like the Zappos of emergency departments.  That’s probably the highest compliment I could give since I greatly admire how Zappos handles its customers.

I’m hoping NYU has started a new trend for the other emergency departments in NYC and throughout the country.  Congrats, NYU, for giving new life to the emergency department.

Jul 07

RealDiana, FauxJournalism

Today's guest post is by Courtney Chauvin Ellul, Director, Peppercom Europe

The hotly debated July 4 Newsweek feature, “Diana at 50: If She Were Here Now,” written by the always controversial Tina Brown, sounds more like an episode of Coronation Street, than the cover story of a major news magazine. Adding insult to injury is that photo – the super-freaky, Zombie-like, Photoshopped image of the Princess walking with daughter-in-law Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It’s a new low for today’s media, especially for an outlet that has the word ‘News’ in its title.
Not surprising, the British are none too happy about this. 

The media here, not unlike many U.S. outlets, are tearing the story to shreds. According to The Telegraph, “The ghoulish cover exudes bad taste: using Diana’s image is one thing – the late princess still sells papers in America as elsewhere. But presenting her, artificially aged, in a hat and frock next to the young Duchess, similarly attired, is beyond the pale.” The Guardian calls the story “ill-judged’” and “a rather flaky imagining of what the dead princess would be doing now.” The issue underperformed with advertisers as well, selling 13.8 ad pages, which is considered low for a ‘special double issue’ (hardly special and, wafer thin, hardly double).

Britons are also peeved by the U.S. publication’s creepy depiction of the late princess and exploitative grab for sales (imagine, for just one moment, how you would feel if that was your digitally altered dead mom on the cover of a ‘reputable’ magazine?). According to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, more than a third of Britons think the cover is offensive, and three-in-ten brand it as useless. More than half of respondents are not interested at all in reading the story. A reader posted a comment on the Newsweek site on Tuesday morning, asking: “When will the new title be official: Fictionweek?” It would take more than a tea-filled afternoon to read through the hundreds of other scathing comments.

Peppercom Europe managing director Jacki Vause agrees that the piece is tasteless; the sort of editorial you would expect to see in a down market woman’s magazine (“People has better standards of content!”) – not Newsweek. She said:

The speculation on Diana’s life as it would have been was written like some kind of bad rom-com movie script outline – with her slick ‘hedge-fund’ guy and her secret trysts when she became bored. I am not sure what the purpose of editorials like this are.

Does it serve any information need? No, it’s just a titillating byline from Tina Brown who is obviously just keen to keep her profile up. And for Newsweek, a sad way of dragging out the Royal Wedding story so that it can boost its sales/profile. I think it backfired on both. Tina Brown appears frivolous and without substance (she could speculate on a lot more important and relevant matters) and Newsweek has dumbed itself down. The fact is, it’s boring. Diana is dead – move on!

British native and Peppercom director Carl Foster offers his two pence – in the form of three thoughts:

First thought: That’s not the greatest Photoshop job when we’re talking about the cover of Newsweek.

Second thought: What a cheap and opportunistic way to piggyback on the recent popularity of the royals while at the same time highlighting your own social connections while at the same time generating web traffic for your publication and selling more copies at the newsstand (it must be the time of year when these pubs get ABCed).

Third thought: Who is that bloke in the background?

I’m a fake Brit – living in London now but from Canadian/American descent – but I share in the outrage here and am bitterly disappointed with Newsweek. It’s a fluff piece – a real yawner – that lacks editorial integrity and shows a blatant disregard for the late Princess’s accomplishments and legacy – not to mention her family and devoted fans who hold on to the person she was, not the person she’s imagined to have become.  What can we expect next from the magazine? Pippa at 28? Sarah Palin in another pair of gym shorts? 

When Tina Brown took over Newsweek in 2010, she said her vision for the magazine would be "about filling the gaps left when a story has seemingly passed."

To me, and to many of my fellow Brits, this is not a gap. It’s a Royal gaffe.

Jun 13

Despite BP Disaster, Tourism No Longer “Slip Slidin’ Away” for Gulf Shores

Today's guest post is by Peppercomer Sam Ford.

Would last summer’s daily dose of tragedy from BP and a gulf full of grade A “black gold…Texas  223226_652727826048_709098_34420278_5301955_n tea” keep you from vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico? We didn’t let it, and I couldn’t be happier about our experience.

Not too long ago, my family and I decided to take a trip to the beach. My wife and I were married on the beach, a little over 10 years ago, to be exact, in Charleston, SC. But, in all honesty, we hadn't been on much of a vacation since. (Even that wasn't a vacation, since my best man ended up bumming around in our beach house for the first part of the honeymoon, before we could get rid of him.)

So, to say our next beach vacation was a bit overdue is an understatement. Amanda and I are both notoriously bad about having trouble unplugging from work, but we decided to make our trip as device-free as possible, especially to give our 2-year-old daughter (Emma Belle Ford, pictured) some dedicated attention before her little sister arrives in a few months.

The only question was, "Where?" We talked about heading back to South Carolina. But, as we shopped around, we found that the "steal of a deal" was Gulf Shores, Alabama.

I've never been to Gulf Shores. I'd been close by for a basketball team trip to Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., in high school. (My physique might reveal I was a staff member, not a player…) Plenty of family and friends had piled down in years past, including my wife in her youth of summer "extended family vacations." But, given my requirements were really just peace and quiet, it seemed a good fit.

What I wasn't sure of is what the state of Gulf Shores would be. After being hit hard in tourism by the BP oil spill of last season, they'd put some significant effort in convincing people their food was still fresh, their beaches still viable and their town still a destination for your vacation dollars.

And our trip was no disappointment. The people were friendly. Business seemed back up. And there was no shortage of outlet mall shopping, seafood restaurants, and kitschy family activities. We spent most of our time at the pool. (And enjoyed some fine dining at Lambert's Cafe– any place that brings sorghum and fried potatoes by your table for free during dining and aims rolls at your head during the meal is fine by me.)

I ran into a fellow former Kentuckian who helped manage the local donut shop, and she predicted that business would only be down by about a third from two years ago, something to celebrate by standards of the previous summer.

But one sign ensured me that Gulf Shores was "back": when I picked up The Mullet Wrapper, Gulf Shores' local publication of what's happening (and I'm sure the source of much derision from snarky tourists along the way…), staring back at me was Paul Simon.

Now, caveat: I am an ardent Paul Simon fan. His music is the soundtrack of my life. And his latest album was the soundtrack of my vacation, played through I'm sure several dozen times throughout the week. But, according to The Mullet Wrapper, Paul was a sign that the tourist drought had ended for this beach destination. As part of the release of Paul's new album, So Beautiful or So What?, he was headlining their Hangout Music Festival on the beach. (The Foo Fighters were also on the roster of performers, among others.)

Unfortunately, my vacation ended right as the 35,000 people swarmed the beach to see Paul prove he's "still crazy after all these years." But, as I drove back to Kentucky with his new song "Rewrite" playing in the background, I couldn't help but think that Gulf Shores might have just found a rewrite of its own.

Jun 06

Another politician under suspicion for doing something inappropriate – ethically, financially, sexually or otherwise! Can you believe it?

Today's guest post is by former Peppercommer Jeff Kasko.

No, I’m not talking about the ex-Governator from California, but Congressman Anthony Weiner  (D – Brooklyn & Queens), a smart, aggressive pol who seems pretty media-savvy and loves the spotlight almost as much as Senator Chuck Schumer does!  Apparently, Weiner may have posted a lewd photo (of an aroused man’s crotch – with the underwear on) on his Twitter account for all his “followers” to see, even though it was meant only for a certain female college admirer from Seattle who he has allegedly never met.
WeinerI’m following the Weiner situation with gusto because of the mix of PR, politics, sex and new media involved.  When a public official gets caught doing something stupid, I’m always interested in how they address the crisis, how they face the media piling on, and what tactics they use to protect their reputation before they face the voters again or resign in disgrace.  (Full disclosure – I serve as an elected official in my hometown, and, every once in a while, I have a teeny tiny bit of sympathy for the politician facing a media onslaught.  But not this time.)
As a Peppercom alumnus (2000-2002), I certainly learned a few things about reputation management and crisis communications from Steve Cody and Ed Moed (for certain clients, not the agency!).  Among the basic rules:
•    Answer all questions.  Don’t run away and hide from your predicament.
•    Take charge and own the crisis before others do.
•    Don’t blame others.  Take some responsibility
•    Don’t lie.  Be open and honest.
•    Be serious and contrite and never joke around about the situation.
•    Be smart and careful about using media to help you.
If I were advising Congressman Weiner, I would strongly encourage him to apply some of these basic rules before going out and trying to manage (and mangle) this situation himself.  (Further disclosure – I’m a Republican and not at all interested in helping salvage or advance the political career of the newly married gentleman from New York, Mr. Weiner).
So what grade would I give the congressman for his handling of this over the past few days?  An F – no question.  He’s broken most, if not all, of the above rules.  We’re almost a week into Weinergate and there are now more doubts and more questions about his conduct than before he went on his media tour of morning shows and cable news to try and defend himself and blame others.
Weiner says he was hacked, that this was a prank, and that he doesn’t know the college student in Seattle.  But he also said he cannot say for sure whether the crotch shot is his or not.  That photo — and all others he previously posted — was apparently deleted right after it mistakenly went out to thousands of his followers.  And he hasn’t turned over his Blackberry and Twitter account to any law enforcement agency or asked for an investigation.  This, at the same time that he was making jokes with Washington reporters for “being a little stiff yesterday.”
Things didn’t get much better this past weekend.  Weiner cancelled appearances at a political party convention and the Israel Day parade in New York, and he isn’t talking to media anymore.
I don’t know if Congressman Weiner is guilty of anything regarding the photo and the tweet and the college girl.  But I think the verdict is in on his recent reputation/crisis management efforts.  I think it’s a textbook PR case of how not to handle a controversy.
It's almost Nixonesque (or Clintonesque, for my Republican friends out there):  It's not so much the initial mistake, but the aftermath and how it's handled that makes it so bad.
I’ll be online first thing in the morning to see what he says next.

Mar 23

Boys Meet Girl

Today's guest post is by Frieda Smason, (pictured) a senior at Stern College – Yeshiva University.

Last week I learned about the effectiveness of humor in the workplace from Steve Cody,  Frieda11 professional comedian and “PR man” (a.k.a. co-founder of Peppercom) who came to speak to our class at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. We participated in a series of exercises that are designed to help you loosen up in front of a crowd. Then, each person got up in front of the class and told a short story about something that really bugs them. The goal of the exercise was to make you realize how well humor and business complement each other when you harness humor properly.

I’ll tell you something not so funny – I work in an office where I am the only woman. That's right – every single person there is male aside from me. The implications of this are very serious: no skim milk in the fridge – ever! Everyone in the office is at least a foot taller than I am, so the paper towels in the kitchen are always just a little too high for me to reach. The announcement board has "funny" jokes about guy things like "The top ten reasons beer was created." And of course, the toilet seat is, without fail, always up.

Trust me; I didn't think any of these things were funny before Steve gave us the comedy workshop. Living in an apartment with female roommates, I'm used to having at least three people always say "God bless you" when they hear me sneeze and, of course, girls discussing  drama about boys all the time.

Now I work in the heart of the "boy drama," where I’ve learned that boys aren't that dramatic – at all. I'm slowly realizing that it’s the girls who make all of it up. Guys just like to sit at their computers and eat take-out. I tried to make small talk once at the water cooler by asking someone how their weekend was. His reply? "Bad."

The story I told in front of my class was about a prank one of my co-workers played on me. The short version is that he sent me an email from my boss's phone saying that I had violated company policy and I was going to be terminated if I didn't mend my behavior immediately. When it happened, it was terrifying, but after telling the story in front of the class I realized how funny it actually was.

It's crazy that telling a two-minute story in front of my peers seemed more daunting than handing over a business presentation to my boss, but now that it's over I know that I can do anything – aside from reaching the paper towels at work.