Mar 18

I have to write off the new USPS/HBO campaign

I hate to say it, but letter writing is a dying, if not, dead form of communications. The youngerLetter
generation, in particular, has no interest in putting pen to paper.

That said, I was fascinated to see the US Postal Service partner with HBO and its most excellent new mini-series, ‘John Adams,’ to launch a letter-writing campaign. The ‘power of the letter’ initiative is aimed at high school students and is costing HBO a cool million dollars to underwrite.

USPS Spokesperson Sue Brennan, said, ‘In this era of e-mail and text messaging, there really is something to be said how about personal a letter is.’ I agree. But, unlike the American Revolution, this cause is doomed.

Kids simply don’t want to take the time or effort to send traditional letters or notes. I’m not alone in encouraging college kids to use letter writing as a differentiator in their job searches. It really does work. I’ll always open a personal letter, but will quickly delete most anonymous e-mails.

Written letters say something about a person’s desired image and reputation. It tells me he or she does care enough to take the time and effort to personalize a message in a way that text and e-mail never can. It’s also a refreshing, if antiquated, antidote to the anonymity and coarseness of the web.

So, here’s a challenge/request: tell me if you agree or disagree that letter writing is dead. But, put it in writing and mail it to me. Assuming I get any takers, I’ll do a follow-up blog (and mail a personalized, written version to the letter writers).

Mar 10

And the finalists for best corporate campaign of the year are Golin Harris, Golin Harris and Golin Harris. And, the winner is…

PR industry awards programs are a total joke. Aside from awards-submission savvy midsized firms likeAward
CLS and Cone, a few large firms totally dominate every awards category of every awards competition every year.

It’s embarrassing and absurd at the same time. Big firms have the resources, time and wherewithal to submit 70, 80 or more programs to every competition. How difficult is it to be a finalist in a given category when 60 percent of the submissions come from the same agency?

One would think the cash-strapped publications sponsoring these industry love-ins would figure out how innately unfair they are and, dare I suggest it, hold two awards competitions: one for the T Rex’s of the industry, and another for the rest of us.

The big guys would still rake in their usual quota of 15 or more trophies per show. The independent firms would finally be competing on a level playing field. And, the media properties would pocket more cash. So, what’s the delay? Oh, and the winner of that particular award was, believe it or not, Golin Harris.

Sep 12

When the back-end is as important as the front

I can remember walking into a restroom many years ago and seeing my entrepreneurial boss bendingGarbage
down to pick up paper towels. He not only scooped them up, but also used them to mop up the sink and clean the mirrors. I was stunned.

He spotted me staring at him and sniffed, “Clients and prospects use this men’s room. If they think we don’t care about little details like this, they’ll think we won’t care about the little details of their business either.” I laughed at the time, but I’m not laughing now. Especially when I see the condition of some men’s rooms, ours included.

My boss was a successful businessman whose firm was eventually acquired after a 25-year run. What separated him from most was an understanding that an organization’s image and reputation is impacted by every aspect of the ‘customer’ experience. As a result, he not only fussed over client service, but also the maintenance of everything from the front-end reception area to the, well, back-end restroom. And, he never became too busy or too successful to pay attention to the details.

I’d like to think I’m somewhat the same way. That’s why, if you timed it right, you’d see me picking up newspapers, paper towels and other flotsam and jetsam in the Peppercom restroom. It all matters in the image and reputation wars.

Aug 14

Not walking the walk

I’m always fascinated to attend industry seminars and see my peers grappling with
business developmentIst2_187726_self_promotion_2
and branding issues. They know exactly how to counsel clients on the best and brightest ways to break out from the pack. Yet, when it comes to agency marketing, most firms simply don’t walk the walk.

A new survey* undertaken by marketing consultant Robb High substantiates this alarming trend: namely, 76 percent of 132 marketing communications firms surveyed have no regular outbound communications directed to marketing decision-makers. And, more than two-thirds of the 118 client decision-makers surveyed couldn’t name more than five agency brands. And, that spells trouble with a capital ‘T’.

So, while a select few agencies focus on fine-tuning their positioning, creative campaigns and strategic partnerships, the average one isn’t even attempting to communicate in the first place. When I ask agency owners and senior executives why they don’t consistently and clearly communicate their ‘value-adds,’ they typically say they’re focused on billable client work. Or, they’ll say they’ve tried it once or twice but, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, ended up assigning the most junior person who invariably fails.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve always treated our firm as a critically important client. We’ve allocated the necessary time and manpower and assigned our very best people to promoting Peppercom. And, it’s paid off. Big time.

While I’d like to think that most agencies will wake up and pay attention to High’s stats, the likelihood is that the majority will remain in denial and just keep their noses to the grindstone. And, that would be a fine strategy if client-agency loyalty really did still exist.

*From Robb High Tuesday August 7th 2007
Results of a survey among 132 Markeing/Communications  firms and 118 client marketing decision-makers:
76% of MarCom firms have no regular outbound communications directed to client marketing decision-makers (regular = more than 3/year).
68% of client decision-makers cannot name more than 5 agency brands (aside from their current agency or agencies.) 59% of those who know 5+ brands rate their depth of familiarity as "agency brand name only."  68% of MarCom firms with outbound communications send to a list of fewer than 100 companies, even though only one in 16 clients conducts a review in any given year. 79% of MarCom firms with an outbound communications program use only land mail. 97% of decision-makers select email as their "preferred" form of business communication.

Jul 26

A day in the life

The following is a guest blog by Sophie Hanson, AE, Peppercom London

Hanging out in the poolside sauna yesterday I thought I definitely had the best deal from my job swap with the CEO of Peppercom, Steve Cody.

Last time I saw him he was holed up at my desk knee deep in news searches and press releases in his role as "Sophie, Account Executive for the day."

After some laps of the pool, sitting in the steam room I got to thinking about where you could go with the whole job swap premise. Imagine swapping with your client for the day and having them come into your office. As much as we try to make every client feel most important, the reality there’s a responsibility juggling act going on behind the scenes.

If you flip over from client side to agency side as I have, it’s an eye-opening switch. Working for a large media owner I had incredible expectations of what our agencies should be doing for us, whether PR, advertising or other marketing brethren. Demanding would be an understatement yet they always delivered with a smile. It could have been the steam making me light headed but I was suddenly hit by the realization that yes, I probably was the client from hell.

As a client I’m not sure one ever fully appreciates the art of account handling, but now I realize that the ability to remain positive, enthusiastic and "can-do" even when faced with the most demanding of clients is a skill that can be learned and improved on.

Making the switch to agency side is almost like learning a new language, we don’t just get hits, we "secure" coverage. I’m acutely aware of the need to reinforce pro-activity and have learnt to transfer my client side outlook to the other side. That said, the insight remains unbeatable.

So here’s the thing, I dare a client to spend even just a morning job swapping with an agency contact and prepare to be amazed at how much time we spend working on accounts, and the little things you don’t see us do that deliver such quality work. And similarly, if PROs spent a day in their clients’ office they would soon learn what makes them tick.

As for being CEO for the day, I was surprised that down time wasn’t nearly as relaxing as I imagined, as I constantly wondered how things were going back at the office. Having someone else come do your job is a reality check, it’s easy to get preoccupied with shuttling from one task to another and forget to take a step back to enjoy the fun and creative aspects of the job. Ultimately I learned that all you really need is a blackberry, a phone, self confidence, good team spirit and you can dive right into anything and achieve results from anywhere in the world.

Today I’m back to being Sophie, Account Executive, but as my last CEO task and in true Steve Cody style, I write this guest blog from the train en route to the office.

May 03

If only….

Recently we interviewed some venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who, upon reflecting on their early successes and failures, wished they’d known then what they know now. That thought popped into my head as I addressed a group of University of Vermont college students the other day. It was my third lecture Steve_cody_2 before soon-to-be-graduates in the past six months. As I addressed their questions and concerns, I thought to myself, ‘If only I’d had the opportunity to meet with, and speak to, an entrepreneur/businessperson when I was starting my career.’ Needless to say, I didn’t. As a result, I knew next to nothing when I showed up at Hill & Knowlton as a freshly-minted junior account executive.

So I figured I’d compile my list of ‘If only I knew then what I knew now.’ For example:

– Ninety percent of business is, indeed, just showing up. I never cease to be amazed at how dysfunctional American business & industry is. With a little hard work, inspiration and desire, it’s not too difficult to run rings around the average businessperson. So, check your intimidation at the front door.

– One’s image and reputation is everything. When I was younger, I was quick to accuse and quick to condemn. Happily, I didn’t burn too many bridges along the way. Now, with the possible exception of medical supply executives, I bend over backwards not to offend anyone.

– Networking is fundamental to building one’s image and reputation. I waited way too long to begin building a database and communicating regularly with what should have been an ever-expanding list.

– Voracious reading is fundamental to success. Monday’s UVM business class, for example, depended almost exclusively on the web for news and information. Despite the fact that most were business majors, few, if any, read The Wall Street Journal.

– Voracious reading fuels an expanded vocabulary which, in turn, drives clear, consistent writing (a commodity that is becoming increasingly scarce in business & industry). I believe the best public relations writing mirrors that of the Journal. Wished I’d known that earlier on in life.

– Multi-tasking is imperative. It’s amazing how much productive work one can get done on a conference call. That’s when I wrote this blog.

There’s much, much more to share and reflect on. But, I’d like to ask readers to contribute and answer the same ‘if only’ question: namely, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

Apr 30

The G’s knew what they were doing all along

I had the opportunity recently to reconnect with the husband-and-wife team who ran a PR firm for whom I worked for in the mid-1980s. Howard and Sheila Geltzer (who we rank-and-file types always called the ‘G’s’) operated a very successful agency for some 30 years.

When I toiled as an account supervisor at their firm, I saw the G’s as great, but flawed, leaders. They taught us a good deal about positioning, client management, strategy and, of course, media relations. But, agency profitability, client over-servicing and accounts receivable issues always seemed to intrude in any and all conversations.

As a 26-year-old know-it-all, I resented the financial discussions and thought ill of what I perceived to be a pennywise, pound foolish, management style.

Fast forward a few decades and you’ll find an older and wiser me. In fact, I told the G’s that I now understand and totally respect what they’d accomplished and how they’d managed the business. All of which reminds me of the famous Will Rogers quote: "The older I get the smarter my father gets."

Aug 15

My dog, Pepper

My dog, Pepper, died last night. She’d lived a good, long life and, sadly, had to be euthanized because of advanced arthritis. As my son, Chris, and I said our final farewells to Pepper last night, I thought of all the funny, and not-so-funny, things Pepper did in her life.

To begin with, Pepper wasn’t the friendliest dog in the world. For example:

1.) At the very first agency pool party in 1996, some original Peppercommers decided to snap somePepper_2   photos by my pool. We were sporting our new Peppercom t-shirts and thought the timing was perfect for a photo op. Someone suggested we grab Pepper, put a shirt on her and include her in the pic. To say that Pepper was less than thrilled with the idea is an understatement. She snapped and snarled at anyone trying to put the shirt on. Finally, my partner held her while I slipped the shirt over Pepper’s neck. The framed photo now hangs on our firm’s back walls.

2.) Ed and Pam Moed paid us a visit one day to sit by our pool and reflect on the agency’s early successes. Our revelry was disrupted, however, by shrill screaming coming from the bushes. Pepper had found a nest of rabbits and was busy scooping them out, one-by-one, and tossing them into the back of her throat. It was a brutal scene reminiscent of something from Animal Planet’s Shark Attack Week. Pepper wiped out an entire family. Or, so we thought. The next day, I found a solitary bunny floating face down in our pool. The little guy had left a note saying he couldn’t go on without his family.

3.) Pepper loved to run away from our backyard. I cannot tell you how many times our neighbors would call with "Pepper sightings." And, my wife or I would have to pile in the car and retrieve the dog. And, sure enough, there would be Pepper, soaking wet and muddy from having dove into some unsuspecting neighbor’s pool.

4.) Speaking of pools, Pepper loved ours and used to dive in repeatedly, swimming the length and width time and again. One of the saddest things to see this past Summer was Pepper’s inability to even walk up the steps to get to the pool.

When I think about Pepper, I think about the many ways in which she unknowingly helped Peppercom. Clients, prospects and everyone else loved the fact that we named the agency after a dog. I cannot tell you how many times the agency name served as a key icebreaker in a critically important new business meeting. People just love dogs and immediately bond with other people who love dogs. If I ever write a "business tips" book, I’ll dedicate an entire chapter to the importance of dogs to new business.

Pepper wasn’t the greatest dog in the world. And, her personality prevented anyone from getting very close to her. But, she was a good, loyal companion and gave us nearly 14 years of fun. And, hey, how many dogs can say they’ve had one of the country’s top, midsized firms named after them? Rest in peace, Pepper. We’ll miss you.