Dec 21

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike

Guest Post By Matt Purdue, Peppercom

As the first 10 years of the 21st century draw to a close, one of the most successful social media tales of the decade is still peaking. It offers great lessons for anyone involved in this emerging communications space.

December 21 Eldon Nelson, 43, started his blog in 2005 as a way to share his tongue-in-cheek experiences riding his bike in an effort to lose weight. The Fat Cyclist became popular thanks to Nelson’s everyman approach to a subject to which many of us can relate. But, ironically, Nelson’s blog really took off after his wife was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Mixing equal parts humor, pathos and unabashed honesty, Nelson recounted his family’s long struggle with the disease in graphic detail.

After Nelson’s wife died in August 2009, traffic to his blog tripled.

Nelson has used the increasingly popularity of his blog to accomplish incredible good works. He helped form virtual teams of cyclists who raised more than $600,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. More recently, he inspired some 3,700 readers of his blog to donate more than $135,000 to LAF and World Bicycle Relief. The efforts earned Nelson a ride with Lance Armstrong and his new team.

Nelson’s formula presents a fantastic lesson for social media planners:
– Be honest…always
– Address subjects that people are passionate about
– Write with the everyday reader in mind
– Get your readers involved
– There are ways to measure success other than widgets sold

Happy holidays to Fatty and everyone out there.

Dec 03

Eye on the Tiger

Guest post by Lia LoBello, Peppercom

December 3 - tiger-woods Like many Americans, I woke up Friday, November 28 basking in a post-Turkey Day glow. I wanted nothing more than the simple pleasure of flipping on the TV and enjoying the sweet sound of a billion reporters screaming about Black Friday shopping lines.

I was denied. Instead, the media was beside itself, breathlessly reporting that Tiger Woods had crashed his car into a fire hydrant and a tree on his own property “This is not news,” I cried to my family. “Who cares about this?” My dad, as big a golf enthusiast as they come, simply shrugged. Little did I know, it was only the tip of the iceberg.

The media cared plenty. The reporting continued, largely unsubstantiated, for five solid days until Tiger released a statement on Wednesday, December 2, apologizing for his “transgressions.” His carefully worded statement neither confirmed nor denied a reported affair – supposedly the cause of a fight between Tiger and his wife causing him to flee his home and crash – and instead, asked for privacy.

In the days leading up to the statement, I found myself trying to answer the million dollar question for public relations professionals watching this episode unfold – did Tiger wait too long to talk? I say no. 

By not indulging the media feeding frenzy desperately searching for a fact amidst heaps of speculation, Tiger exposed the 24/7 media cycle for what it is – a shoot first, substantiate later circus that disregards objectivity in favor of ratings and which reports rumors carefully couched as to appear real.

“Will sponsors stand behind him?” they begged to know. “Will fans ever forgive him?” The answer, and no surprise here, appears to be yes.

Reading through the comments on TigerWoods.com, numbering more than 9,000 by late Wednesday night, a relatively mixed bag of benign “We’re behind you!” and “How could you do this?” comments exist. And according to Zeta Interactive via the Wall Street Journal, Tiger's online positive approval rating dipped 23 percentage points to 71 percent. With all due respect to Zeta Interactive – those metrics mean nothing to the average American and further, are higher than the current presidential approval rating. Additionally, Nike, Gatorade and EA Sports all released statements saying their relationship with Tiger was unaffected.

Thanks to a previously spotless reputation and the exaggerated reaction of media, I think Tiger’s fans will quickly forgive and forget his “sins.” What we shouldn’t be so quick to forgive is the media’s inundating of our "news" with pointless discussion and debate about a celebrity’s possible dirty laundry. To think of how we could all benefit if the same effort was employed for actual news – say the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the recent New York Senate gay marriage ban or healthcare. Perhaps we should start asking our Senators and soldiers to get handy with a five iron.

Nov 30

The uniforms aren’t the problem

Guest Post by Isaac Farbowitz

November 30 - AT 5-20 SeaverMetsUniform “The New York Mets today announced they will wear a new pinstripe home uniform next season inspired by the early years of the franchise. The design combines new and old elements of Mets uniforms. The Mets created the retro uniform following research and positive responses to the jerseys the 1969 World Champion Mets wore during their 40th anniversary celebration in August.”

So reads a “News Flash” email I just received from my beloved NY Metropolitans. If you want to find an organization that is simply lost and spending its time and dollars in the wrong places look no further. The Mets just came off a miserable season, made all the more difficult for Mets fans as we watched the hated Evil Empire from the Bronx being paraded down the Canyon of Heroes after winning number 27. 

If I were working in the Mets front office and I was looking to reconnect with fans, every dollar and resource would be spent trying to field a better team next year as well as trying to figure out why half of my team spent more time on the DL then they did on the field. I certainly wouldn’t have done “research” to come up with new uniforms which, by the way, look pretty similar to what they have worn for years. To think that even a dollar or a minute was spent on this “research” shows just how far removed from reality they Mets really are. 

It’s amazing to me that this idea for the new uniform even got past the first conversation among the front office. Wouldn’t someone have said “Hey guys, I don’t think our fans are that upset about how we dressed on the field last year.” Or, did some guy or gal from management say “This is a great idea- we may lose 90 games next year but at least we can look better doing it!”

I think the powers that be in Queens, NY need to take a hard look at what the real issues are and stop “Flushing” resources down the drain. I think Mets fans from near and far should send the Wilpons and crew a “news flash” letting them know that the uniforms are not the problem, and changing them won’t put more bodies in the seats or W’s in the win column. If this is the best the Mets can do to reconnect with their fans, I’ve got a feeling that the summer of 2010 will be spent much like the summer of 2009- looking forward to NFL Kickoff Weekend. On second thought, after watching the Same Old Jets implode again, I might spend the summer taking up a new hobby- walking on hot coals. 

Nov 23

To dream the impossible dream

November 23 - wallpaper_football10 I applaud my alma mater’s decision to end its college football program. Northeastern University’s decision was reached after an exhaustive, two-year study and follows on the heels of cross-town rival, Boston University’s, decision to follow a similar course.

Northeastern is a serious contender in sports such as ice hockey, crew and, every now and then, basketball. But, the football program has always been an also ran. Like many other wannabe’s, N.U. aspired to greater things and actually scheduled an opening match against perennial football powerhouse Boston College. The result was both laughable and predictable.

Now freed from the shackles of climbing a mountain too high (or a bridge too far, if you prefer WWII analogy), Northeastern is free to concentrate on its core athletic competencies while also diverting funding to academic pursuits (an area in which the school is rapidly rising through the ranks).

Northeastern’s David v. Goliath run against BC is akin to a two-person PR start-up competing against Weber-Shandwick in the public relations industry annual awards’ programs. While N.U. may boast the single, most creative tailback or safety on the gridiron, BC’s sheer size and numbers guarantee a lopsided result. Ditto with the industry awards’ programs. Like the NCAA, our industry should create three distinct categories based on size and allow the big guys to compete against one another, midsized firms to engage with their peers and the boutiques to do the same.

What chance did Northeastern ever really have against a major football powerhouse like BC? None. And, what real chance does an unknown start-up have when competing against 11, count ‘em 11, separate submissions from one Top 10 agency in a single category? The fledgling boutique can only afford one submission while the behemoth can lob in one after another.

The awards’ system is broke. And, the PR powers that be see it as nothing more than ‘an old argument,’ that merits no discussion. That leaves little guys with one of two choices: follow Northeastern’s lead and divert whatever disposable marketing dollars you have on something with a higher return on investment or, like the Man of La Mancha, continue to dream the impossible dream.

Nov 19

We’re just finding different ways to not be successful

We all have our crosses to bear in this life. For me, it's rooting for the Mets and Jets. Each season, each team finds new and different ways to disappoint.

November 19 - mets The Mets staged the single greatest collapse in Major League Baseball history three years ago. They followed that up with another, less dramatic, but equally devastating collapse two seasons ago and never bothered showing up to play in 2009.

The Jets haven't won anything since 1969 and, in their own unique way, are even more challenging to follow than the Mets.

This year's squad not only started off with three straight wins, but brought an attitude of brashness and trash talking worthy of a certain best-selling, erstwhile governor of Alaska. Sure enough, though, the team has imploded midway through the season.

November 19 - jets logo The ways in which the Jets lose can be as riveting as the best plot twists in a Colin Dexter 'Inspector Morse' murder mystery. One never knows how they will hand away a game to a lesser opponent. One week, they dominate both sides of the scrimmage line, only to be betrayed by their special teams. This past Sunday, the usually reliable, in-your-face defense completely collapsed in the last seconds of a loss to the Jaguars.

You know things are bad when the head coach, Rex Ryan, admits he '….would make a lot of calls' to friends and mentors in the game asking for advice because he did not have answers. That's comforting. The new head coach has no idea why his team is imploding. He says the situation is 'a comedy of errors, but it's not funny.' Amen to that. Jets fans haven't been laughing about anything since a certain Joe Willie Namath pulled off the impossible dream on January 12, 1969.

So, what's worse? A Mets manager (Willie Randolph) who shrugs his shoulders and says, 'Hey, if it's not your life and it's not your wife, how important can it be?' Or a Jets coach (Ryan) who shakes his head and laments, 'We're just finding different ways to not be successful.'

Oct 27

I thought we were making progress in a lot of areas

October 27 - Eric_Mangini(3) Earlier this year, I engendered the wrath of Cleveland Browns fans by suggesting that erstwhile Jets coach and newly-named Browns Coach Eric Mangini was bad news. I asked the rhetorical question, 'Why do sports teams keep recycling losers?'

Mangini was the latest in a long line of mediocre and just plain bad football, baseball and basketball managers and coaches who, inexplicably, keep landing new, higher paying jobs despite a history of failure. I went on to suggest such a thing simply wouldn't happen in business industry. When CEOs fail, they rarely turn up at the top of another firm; instead, they usually start their own hedge fund or venture capital firm with the cash from their severance packages.

Not so with pro football. Take a gander at this season and the performance of Mangini and his Browns. They're 1-6 after being drubbed on Sunday by the Packers, 31-3. And, what was Mangini's comment after the game? 'I thought we were making progress in a lot of areas.' My comment? He's delusional. Could you imagine a CEO saying something similar to Wall Street analysts after a disastrous quarterly earnings report?

Mangini made the same sort of absurd comments as the Jets lost game after game at the end of last season. He was always pointing to progress on one side of the football while the team was collapsing on the other.

Mangini reminds me of former Mets Manager Willie Randolph who, during the team's historic collapse at the end of 2007 season, kept pointing to the positives: 'We saw some great pitching tonight. All we needed were some clutch hits,' or 'The guys were hitting the cover off the ball. We just need more consistency from our bullpen,' or my personal favorite: 'These losses will make winning the division and sipping the champagne just that much sweeter.' Needless to say, the Mets never did win the division and any champagne that was consumed was probably washed down with scotch, vodka or some other sedative to ease the pain.

I'd like to see accountability come to the coaching ranks. If a guy has a proven record of losing, ditch him. Blacklist him. Suggest he become a media trainer. Send him packing. But do not do what the Cleveland Browns and countless other franchises have done with the likes of Mangini over the years. Do not recycle losers.

Jul 13

Hell hath no fury

July 13 - woman The alleged murders of erstwhile sports stars Steve McNair and Arturo Gatti have given new meaning to the old phrase, 'Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.'

From what I've been able to piece together, McNair and Gatti both shared a fondness for the ladies, but made the mistake of two-timing the wrong ones. McNair was the apparent victim of a murder-suicide while Brazilian authorities say Gatti's wife is the lead suspect in his slaying.

McNair's assailant had purchased her murder weapon just days before, again pointing to the need for more stringent gun control laws. I'm not sure what Mrs. Gatti used to deliver the final knockout to her ex-pugilist hubby, but the odds are good she bought it recently.

Weapons of choice aside, what's with the sudden rash of cuckolded concubines committing the ultimate crime of passion? I'm sure there are myriad societal factors involved in each, not the least of which is the pro athlete's belief that he can do or say anything and get away with. And, I'm sure Mrs. Gatti's defense team is already preparing a case of justifiable homicide as the rationale for her actions.

Whether it's easy access to guns, sports stars who think the rules don't apply to them or criminals blaming society for their heinous actions, something has gone badly awry.

The same society that vilified Michael Jackson now worships him. Sarah Palin, despite delivering a rambling, nonsensensical resignation speech, remains beloved by seven out of 10 Republicans. And, now it looks as if the Bush Administration deliberately withheld classified CIA information from Congress. What's a reasonably rationale blogger to make of all this?

It all comes down to one word: accountability. The rules have changed and the guilty are no longer being held strictly accountable. Black is now white and white black.

If nothing else, aging and randy sports stars should study the McNair/Gatti massacres and think twice about their next liaison. In a society gone mad, mad women are feeling more empowered than ever.

Jul 09

Omar’s flawed logic

July 9 - sports046 Mets General Manager Omar Minaya keeps telling fans the club's fortunes will improve once the 'good guys' return to the line-up. The good guys include such injured regulars as Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Carlos Delgado.

In the meantime, a ragtag bunch of minor leaguers impersonating as major leaguers have been playing. And, the word playing doesn't really do it justice. They haven't even been showing up. The team's record has nosedived as a squad once picked to contend for the pennant now finds itself vying with the hapless Washington Nationals for sole possession of the National League East's cellar.

Getting back to Minaya, his logic is flawed because the good guys won't make one iota of difference once they do suit up. Oh, they'll post some respectable offensive numbers and they'll go through the motions on the field, but Minaya has built a squad of individuals, not a team. They choked badly in two successive seasons, losing out to a less talented, but more motivated bunch of Phillies. And, they lack the intestinal fortitude needed to turn around this sorry excuse of a year.

Minaya and his current, rotten crop of Metsies need to be handed a one-way Metro card fare on the number 7 train heading west. It's time to blow up the model and, once again, start from scratch. Anything would be better than watching what purports to be a major league team botch yet another game.

Jun 19

Football’s version of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield

June 19 - requiem-for-a-heavyweight-anthony-quinn-jackie-gleason-mickey-rooney Professional boxers are notorious for not knowing when to say when. The list of once great pugilists fighting way past their primes is endless and includes everyone from Oscar de la Hoya and Mike Tyson to Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Robinson. The definitive movie on the subject is Rod Serling's 'Requiem for a Heavyweight.' I highly recommend renting it from Netflix.

Boxers stick around for a variety of reasons. Many rose from the ranks of poverty and, once flush with the sweet smell of success, squander their winnings on fast cars, loose women and an exorbitant lifestyle. Faced with mounting bills and lightened wallets, the battered boxers step back into the ring against younger, faster and stronger opponents. Some survive. Others, like Ali, pay a heavy price.

Another big reason for fighting past one's prime is the uber rush that comes from performing in front of adoring fans. Adulation is the meth amphetamine of professional athletes. Which has to be the reason why Brett Favre is still bouncing around on the gridiron.

Favre was clearly past his prime in his final season with the Green Bay Packers. One could argue that he single-handedly lost the NFC title game to the Giants that season. And, his performance with the Jets last year should have convinced everyone, including Favre, that he was done.

Besides the physical risks associated with playing past one's prime, these ill-considered moves do significant damage to the athlete's image and reputation.

I'll always remember the 40-something Willie Mays stumbling and falling in a vain attempt to catch a fly ball in the 1973 World Series. Mays' legs were shot, but he couldn't face retirement. So, he embarrassed himself.

Favre needs to hang up his spikes. The longer he sticks around, the more damage he'll do to his image and reputation.

May 18

You are now entering a killing zone

May 18 - smoking I was in Atlantic City Friday night to see some boxing. I took my dad, my son and my brother, John. My dad was an amateur boxer in the 1940s. Rep, Jr., boxed in Vermont's Golden Gloves tournament. And John and me? Well, we follow the sport.

Fully expecting to be dismayed by the sleazy, tawdry surroundings that are synonymous with casinos and gambling, I was nonetheless taken aback by what I walked into at Harrah's. Smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Cigarette smokers were everywhere, forming a veritable cancer on the casino landscape, if you will.

John told me Atlantic City's casinos had lobbied the city government to rescind its smoke-free environment laws a few years back. The casinos were losing too much money, he said. So, the local pols caved, smoking was re-established and the gamblers returned.

But, what about unsuspecting visitors like me? Second-hand smoke has been proven to cause cancer. Why should non-smokers have to wade through the 'resort's' toxic haze and inhale the carcinogenic fumes en route to the boxing matches?

Atlantic City casinos should be forced to place a warning on each and every one of their billboards, advertisements and digital promotions. I suggest a surgeon general's type warning that advises tourists they'll not only be assaulted by bright lights, eardrum-smashing music and the sight of sad, broken-down people feeding quarters into slot machines, but also enough second-hand cigarette smoke to wipe out an entire army. 'You are now entering a killing zone' would also work nicely.

And how about a billboard on the way out of Atlantic City that reads, 'Thank you for losing your money, seeing our B-level stars and inhaling our second-hand smoke. We are not responsible for your future heart and lung disease. Drive safely.’