Dec 19

Re-branding pure evil

I guess it's another sign of the bizarre times in which we live, but Al Qaeda just announced it's re-branding itself.

Slide1-1Trying to distance the heinous organization from its terrorism tag, Al Qaeda is now officially calling itself 'Ansar al-Sharia', which means Army of Islamic Law.

An organization official said the re-branding was necessary in order to attract more foreign fighters to the cause. An anonymous diplomat said the Al Qaeda name 'seems to have negative connotations and baggage'.

You think? That's like saying Hitler had some emotional issues.

I wonder if Ansar al-Sharia will also re-brand some of the Al Qaeda key words and tactics? Will:

– Jihad now be 'population redistribution'
– Suicide bombing now be 'a one-way ticket to 76 virgins'
– A roadside bombing now be called 'an infrastructure upgrade'

On a slightly lighter note (as the morning talk show buffoons like to say), Blackwater, the sleazy U.S. security firm to whom W, Cheney and Rummy handed over many Iraqi government tasks previously handled by Sadam Hussein's soldiers (and, then, went rogue, wiping out scores of innocent Iraqi civilians) announce its SECOND re-branding.

Initially, Blackwater had changed its name to Xe Services. Alas, though, their gung-ho, paramilitary culture was firmly entrenched. So, new management was put in place and a second name was announced: Academi. Are they now the 'institute of black ops'?

I'll be interested to see which re-branding proves more successful.

Being the altruistic blogger that I am, I'd like to help. In fact, I've devised taglines that, I believe, will speed the re-branding education process:

Ansar al-Sharia: 'Years of training for a moment of terror'

Academi: 'Kicking ass and taking names in puppet states'

I'd like to end by asking Repman readers to suggest their taglines for these two inherently evil organizations.

Many of you are PR and marketing specialists, so why not give it a shot?

I'll pick the funniest ones and, if you're in town the same day as one of my stand-up comedy performances, will give you two free tickets for a show.

Maybe we can even discuss a re-branding for Repman? FYI, I'd like something that is synonymous with pure fun.

And a tip o' Repman's climbing helmet to Tucker Greco for suggesting this post.

Sep 29

How NOT to secure a summer internship

Stupid_meter There are many smart and strategic ways to stand out from the competition, demonstrate knowledge of a prospective employer's business, impress the reader with one's command of the English language and secure a summer internship.

And, then there is this steaming pile that found its way to my in-box on Wednesday:

“Hey my name is Clueless McWhocares and I am from Long Island, NY. I'm going to be a senior at Pineapple State University in Pineapple Kansas where I also play football and major In Political Science and minor in communications. I'm desperately trying to get a jump on other students who are attempting to get internships for the summer, So that is why I am contacting you guys now. I am really interested in Public Relations and would like to know if you have any internships for the summer of 2012? “

College and university students as well as recent grads should study this e-mail as a worst case example.

Let me share with you just a few of its fundamental flaws:

– It begins with “Hey”. As my mom loved to say, “Hay is for horses”. If I don't know you and you're connecting with me for the first time, try a salutation along the lines of Dear Steve or Dear Mr. Cody.

– I counted at least four grammatical mistakes in the first two sentences. That's akin to a death sentence for any job seeker. Show me you don't care enough to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar in a cover note to me and I guarantee I won't let you within a football field's length of my clients.

– “That's why I'm contacting you guys now.” You guys? You guys may work in the huddle of this guy's college football team, but it's a critical fumble in a cover note. Again, lose the tone of familiarity and text abbreviations you use with your buds. I don't think our contacts at Fortune 500 corporations would appreciate their Peppercom account manager addressing them as “you guys” in monthly reports that they, in turn, forward to senior management.

– “That's why I'm interested in Public Relations.” What's why you're interested in public relations? The student hasn't told me anything about his experience, relevant internships or why he's gravitating towards public relations as opposed to, say, bricklaying.

– Last, but not least, there's no closing to the letter. No yours sincerely, Best wishes or even Regards. Nada. Just white space. That makes me feel special. Very special indeed. 

The final nail in this student's coffin is the impression that his note was one of hundreds blasted to PR firms across the country. I don't like spam from vendors, stockbrokers or measurement firms. And, I really don't like them from students.

So, study this missive from hell and learn from it. Tailor your cover notes, use formal business language that is grammatically correct and last, but not least, show me you've taken the time to study my organization. Otherwise, you WILL end up as a bricklayer, Wal-Mart greeter, McDonald's burger flipper or some other dead-end job. One thing you will NOT get is a summer internship at a top PR firm or corporation.

Sep 22

The flotsam and jetsam of the blogosphere

Warning: Some readers, especially those who post or Tweet inspirational quotes, may be offended  by the following blog. Reader discretion is advised.

Idoms-793706I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with the countless inspirational quotes that clog up my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Here’s just a random sampling from the last hour:

-    ‘The ability to convert ideas to things is the secret to outward success.’
-    ‘The only validation a young company needs is customers.’ 
-    ‘Lead if you can! Follow if you must. But, don’t stand still.’

What, exactly, am I supposed to do with these inspirational quotes? They’re not actionable items. They don’t change the way I think or my day-to-day existence. More to the point, they only clutter an already cluttered blogosphere. If I want inspiration, I simply turn on the tube and find an ironman triathlon to watch.
The inspirational quote’s evil cousin is the daily horoscope. Here’s a few from this morning:
-    ‘Today is a good day for an Aries to invest wisely.’
-    ‘A Taurus should beware of making new acquaintances today.’
-    ‘Cancers take warning. All signs indicate to a possible loss of a close friend.’

Again, why should I care about someone else’s daily horoscope prediction when I don’t give a rat’s posterior for my own? Horoscope readings, like inspirational quotes, are the flotsam and jetsam of the blogosphere. They’re useless bits of debris floating by you on the vast ocean of life.

More to the point, people who continually post inspirational quotes as well as their daily horoscopes tell me something about themselves: namely, that they don’t have an original point of view so they co-opt someone else’s. A journalist would call that plagiarism. I call it spam. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to check my horoscope to see if it’s safe for me to go for a run.

Jun 28

The Lindsay Lohan of PR

I'll bet that headline stopped you in your tracks. That was my intent. There is no Lindsay Lohan  Iht.bad headline.smallest of PR. Actually, there probably is, but let's not go there.

Instead, let's focus on what makes for a great headline. I think it's fertile ground for a PR and marketing-focused blog because, frankly, most PR professionals (and many PR bloggers) are god-awful headline writers.

The typical PR headline suffers from one of two maladies:

– It's mundane or obvious (i.e. “Why Media Relations Still Matters”. Ugh. Must we revisit that time worn subject one more time?)

– It's ponderous and/or unfathomable (i.e. “Farnsworth Industries, Inc.’s. new, state-of-the-art, first-of-its-kind QX-101 microprocessor chip is not only designed to interface with standard industry circuit boards but, at 0.002 milligrams, is the lightest ever made!” I'd rather shove a fork in my ear than read that press release).

I think the editors of the New York Post and Daily News are the true Michelangelos of headline writing. They've made it an art form. They not only capture the big news of the day in a word or two but, invariably do so as a double entendre. Case in point: the recent Long Island pharmacy slaying of four people by a whack job in search of Vicodin. The post headline? 'Pain Killers.' That's simply superb.

I have other, all-time favorite headlines from the Post and Daily News. I'll never forget the ones the dailies ran on the day after the New York Mets upset the Baltimore Orioles and won the 1969 World Series:

The Post: 'Amazing!' (The once hapless Mets had been nicknamed 'The Amazins' by Casey Stengel. And, their huge upset was nothing short of amazing. Zing. In one word, the editor simultaneously communicates the Mets victory, uses the team's nickname to announce it and underscores how incredible the whole thing was).

The Daily News: 'Bye-bye Birdies' (This was a rare triple entendre that told the reader who'd won, leveraged the aviary roots of the losing team's nickname AND riffed on a Tony-award winning play's name. Positively brilliant).

What about you? Do you have favorite headlines you'd like to share? Or, how about examples of all-time horror shows? (i.e. We once represented an education software company whose PR representative insisted on crafting a personnel announcement that made the new general manager sound like a combination of Buddha, Allah and Christ. It was so laughably bad that it negated any chance of actual coverage.)

So, bring it on. Send me a headline that will stop me in my tracks and immediately communicate the gist of the story to follow. Or, send me something that is an absolute steaming pile of sh*t. And, keep your hands off Lindsay Lohan. She's mine.

Apr 13

A blog about blogs

Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer writes a coffee table book about coffee table books? Well, this is a blog about blogs.

Attack-of-the-blogI began blogging in 2006. Since then, Repman has been named best in industry, consistently ranked among the AdAge Power 100 and attracted hundreds of subscribers and thousands of pass-along readers. It's also landed me in a lot of hot water. One blog antagonized Jack O'Dwyer so much that he lambasted me on the cover of his trade publication for two straight weeks. Another, criticizing the inherent flaws in industry awards programs, earned me a lifetime ban as a PR Week Awards judge. (Note: I stand by my original POV's and find having been fired as a judge makes for a great cocktail party conversation starter.)

All that said, I still have no idea what makes my blog successful. Oh sure, I know it's important to keep the content short and sweet. It's also essential to generate new content daily. And, it's critical to provide readers with a unique perspective. I think it's also important to avoid the breaking news of the day and posit views on less well-known, but equally important, facets of reputation management. (I tend to take the road less traveled when it comes to blogging.)

When I say I have no idea what makes my blog successful, I'm referring to reader response. I've written some blogs that I thought were so edgy and, dare I say it, so insightful, that they'd generate a significant response. And, then, nothing would happen. Nada. Zilch. At other times, like last week, I'll pull together a hastily written blog about the five most influential TV shows in my life and, voila, the flood gates will open and I'll receive 45 or more comments (insert link).

I'm fortunate to have my blog featured on the front page of The Daily Dog and I share those home pages with 15 or 20 other top bloggers. And, I must say, I don't get why some of those blogs are successful either. Like the agencies and service shops they represent, the other blogs tend to be good, bad or just plain ugly. To wit:

– One blogger is an inveterate name dropper and loves to let you in on the latest world leader, Hollywood celebrity or media mogul with whom he's dined and opined. Big deal. I once sat alongside Robby Benson on a flight from West Palm Beach to Newark.
– Another blogger's essays are meticulously researched, beautifully crafted and invariably as dull as dishwater.
– Then there's the blog from hell, authored by an agency leader who clearly played hooky when basic English grammar was being taught. His tomes are endless rants, replete with every spelling and punctuation mistake possible.
– There are also the blogs written solely about media training or video communications. These are the one trick ponies of the PR blogosphere.

And, so I end where I began: clueless as to what constitutes a good blog and why some blogs I find self-serving and self-important routinely sweep the industry awards (could paid advertising have anything to do with it?). Oh well. I've also never figured out why 'little people' don't constitute a minority and never come up in conversations about the need for greater diversity in PR. But, that's a subject best left for another blog or the stage of the New York Comedy Club.

And a tip o' the hat to Mrs. RepMan (aka Angie Cody) for this idea.

Mar 16

The tiger in your mind is more ferocious than the tiger in the jungle

When asked, most humans will admit to being more scared of public speaking than dying. (According to a study conducted by National Public Radio, 43% of Americans say their greatest fear in life is public speaking.  In fact people who responded to the survey said they fear public speaking more than death. )
StepupIt's the fear of the unknown that scares most of us, and the anticipation of speaking in front of a group triggers our age-old fight or flight response (a fact I think the Buddhist expression in the headline captures beautifully).

I saw this very basic human emotion demonstrated yet again Monday night when I led a 'Humor in the Workplace' seminar at the Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. At first, the 17 students were petrified to hear that, after some coaching, they'd be expected to stand in front of the class and 'be funny.' But, each did. And, each student was, in fact, funny.

Recognizing that overcoming the fear of public speaking is a key component in our employees' professional development, we've incorporated stand-up comedy workshops in our training and have seen remarkable results. In addition to making our employees feel more secure about addressing a large group, stand-up comedy training has produced a host of intangible side benefits: enhanced morale, team building and a subtle, but very real reinforcement of our workplace culture: We take our work seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously at all.

I'm amazed that more organizations haven't embraced humor as a recruiting and retention tool. With the economy improving and headhunters once again cold-calling employees with offers, one would think more firms would wake up to the importance of humor to culture (and, in turn, the importance of an open and fun environment in recruiting talent). Yet, as this PR Week feature indicates, most firms are, instead, relying on technology, contests and other gimmicky tactics to woo talent.

I'm not suggesting that humor in the workplace is a be-all and end-all. Money matters. So do perks and an opportunity to work in many different areas of an organization.

But, with everything else being equal, employees will choose a warm and engaging employer. Why? Because people want to work with other people who make them laugh.

So here's a note to all the headhunters and in-house recruiters at the large organizations: think about incorporating humor workshops alongside matching 401k programs, massages, meditation rooms, contests, Twitter feeds and other ploys. Every human being needs help dealing with the tiger of the mind. And, every organization can play a role in helping employees tame the beast. Those that do will find themselves further up the food chain in the never-ending quest to be king of the workplace jungle.

Feb 15

It’s the ‘tude, dude

LeadershipIQ, a training company that specializes in management development, says 46 percent Bad_attitude-20659 of all new hires fail within their first 18 months of employment (insert link). The reason why? Poor attitude.

I can relate. I've had countless encounters over the years with poor  'tudes, including these gems:

– A Drew University intern who, when I asked where my research project was, shrugged her shoulders and sighed, “Sorry, dude. Guess I flaked.”- A recently-hired account executive who strolled into my office and told me he needed an immediate raise since he was “…working on two of the hottest B2B dotcoms in the country.”- A pre-Danderoo executive assistant who, when I asked her if she'd made my travel reservations, snarled, “I'll get to it, ok? I'll get to it.”

In an attempt to determine how my firm tries to prevent hiring employees with poor 'tudes, I turned to Debbie Salerno, our CFO (who also has responsibility for human resources) and Sara Jane Whitman Ramos, who leads our management development program and wields tremendous power at Peppercom.

Both agreed we have a much more stringent hiring process nowadays. Applicants will often meet with six or seven separate employees and we'll compare notes on everything from relevant experience to, yes, attitude.

Debbie and SJWR agree one of the best ways to uncover a poor 'tude is to get an applicant speaking about her previous work experiences. If she relates positive stories and is complimentary of the firm and its principals, we feel good about the applicant. But, if he starts trashing his previous employer and likens him to a combination of Charlie Sheen and Pee Wee Herman, we run away. We run away very, very fast.

SJWR related a recent tale of a woman who came in for an interview from a firm with a notoriously toxic culture. Her credentials were impressive to say the least and, says SJWR, she answered the initial interview questions quite well. But, then, we asked about her previous employer. One would think she'd just escaped from an insane asylum. There was lots of name calling and an increasingly hostile tone in the applicant's voice. We quickly ended the interview and thanked her for her time.

Once someone has been hired, dealing with a poor attitude becomes more problematic, say Salerno and Whitman Ramos. We'll conduct a 360 on each and every employee and, if poor attitude resonates as a concern, let the individual know future advancement and, indeed, employment depends on an attitude adjustment. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. We ended one relationship with an executive because he kept bashing clients to their faces. After being asked off a few accounts, we asked him off the good ship Peppercom.

Salerno says our attrition rate for new employees within the first 18 months is closer to 10 to 15 percent. And, she credits pre-hiring screening and post-employment interventions as the reasons why. SJWR adds that our mentorship and 'buddy' systems also help with attitude adjustments when needed.

All that said, I'm still trying to fix Ed's attitude after 18 years of working alongside the guy. Sometimes one has to overlook a poor 'tude when the dude in question does so many other things well.

Nov 08

If I were a miller (Part II)

PepperMill_Banner Small Here is Part II of my Q and A with Peppercom's "Miller" Lauren Begley.

4) REPMAN: What's your POV on the breakthrough marketing campaigns you cover in the Mill? What's the secret sauce or ingredients that every great campaign contains?

LAUREN: The most innovative campaigns are not necessarily the largest or most expensive. Nor do they always come from big brands or agencies. In fact, many of the most successful campaigns are often quite simple. Honest Tea is a great example. They recently launched an ‘unscientific study’ to find the most honest city in America. They placed cases of Honest Tea in public areas with a sign asking for passerbys to leave $1 if they took a beverage. In the end, Boston topped the list with Los Angeles at the bottom. Aside from the small cost of product, Honest Tea was able to create buzz in both print media and online when they released the results of their test along with a series of videos on YouTube. In terms of a ‘secret sauce,’ the key seems to be interactivity; successful campaigns often call on the general consumer audience to participate in an activity or movement that spreads online. Then the media take notice.

5) REPMAN: How has our staff (and your external audiences) reacted to the Innovation Mill? Are you at the point yet where you're refining what runs and what doesn't?

LAUREN: The Peppercom staff has been incredibly supportive. Several employees have become proactive in sending us case studies or articles of interest. Others have found the Mill to be a great tool worth sharing with clients. In either case, the employee feedback has helped us tweak our process and focus our research on topics that resonate with our employees and clients. This team effort has helped us create a more useful end result.

6) REPMAN: How would you advise any organization, large or small, to create their own Innovation Mill?

LAUREN: I think all agencies should have some sort of system in place to track industry trends – it will only make them more informed and, ultimately, more competitive. To get started, here are a few suggestions:
• Involve people within your organization who are genuinely interested in creative thinking and industry trends.
• Encourage all employees to read, circulate and discuss industry news.  Try to find a lesson in everything you read.
• Listen to ideas employees share and green light the good ones. Whether it is starting an innovation team or initiating ‘board game Fridays,’ hear them out. You never know where those initiatives could lead.

Sep 20

You want skin with your coffee?

It's somehow comforting to know terrible customer service isn't the sole domain of New Jersey Panera1 Transit. It's actually alive and well in tony Brookline, Massachusetts, where the local Panera eatery may employ the most illiterate employees north of Secaucus Junction.

We frequent the Coolidge Corner Panera whenever we visit Repman, Jr.  (who lives nearby and pursues his master's degree in history at the white hot Northeastern University).

So, our dismal customer experience this past Sunday morning was in no way unique. Allow me to explain.

While it boasts a Peet's or Starbucks-like environment replete with soft jazz music, overstuffed chairs and Kindle-toting patrons, Panera's similarity to the higher-end chains ends there.

Once one survives a long wait on line, one places an order that must, repeat, must fall strictly within the guidelines of the menu. So, for example, if one prefers his egg whites without a bagel, the conversation quickly deteriorates faster than a Mets' fan's hopes in late Spring.

“You no want bagel?” the counter attendant asked me. “No,” I replied. “Just the eggs. Thanks.” He shook his head. “Not on menu. What type bagel?” I tried explaining my desire for bagel-free egg whites, but he continued to resist.

Finally, after a moment or so, he shouted, “Margie!”

Out strode a middle-aged woman who clearly knew the ropes. “What's the issue, sweetie?” She asked me. I explained there was no real issue, just a desire to be bagel free. She sighed, shook her head in a disapproving way, whispered something into the attendant's ear and, magically, my order was placed.

Next came my wife's trial by fire. Her order was simpler: a walnut raisin muffin and large coffee with skim milk. “You want skin with coffee?” The attendant asked incredulously. “No,” said my wife, “skim milk.” The server was completely baffled. “Skin?” Being the provocateur that I am, I stepped forward and added, “Yeah, and would you mind throwing in a finger or two, a spleen and some toenails?” This wasn't a language barrier, mind you. The attendant spoke English. He simply didn't, or wouldn't, respond to the request.

Back came Margie. If looks could kill, Ang and I would be dead on arrival. “What's the issue this time?” She sniffed. My wife said she wanted skim milk with her coffee. Margie didn't answer. Instead, she just pointed behind us to a partially obscured stand containing various types of milk and cream.

We grabbed our food and sat down, shaking our heads at yet another horrific user experience. While it was conveniently located to my son's spacious bachelor pad, we decided to place Panera on our endangered species list.

When will brands understand that customer service has become the new public relations? Billboards outside the Brookline Panera boast of its steaming hot coffee, wide assortment of bagels, croissants and breakfast fare. And, of course, the billboards come replete with photographs of smiling customers.

My visceral reaction to the marketing materials was similar to the one I experience whenever an NJT conductor announces an indefinite delay, but doesn't bother to add why it was caused or how long it would last.

Until, and unless, brands begin closing the gaps between what their marketing messages boast and what an end user experiences, they'll continue to lose customers (and, all the time, be at a complete loss as to the exact reason why).

We went into Panera hungry for breakfast. We left feeling like a combination of Jack Nicholson's character in 'Five Easy Pieces' and some sort of real-world Hannibal Lecter, who'd just ordered skin with their coffee.

So, note to Rep, Jr.: track down a new eatery in Coolidge Corner. Panera has bungled its last order for the Cody Clan. Oh, and I'll take an eyebrow to go with my egg whites.