Oct 05

Top 10 reasons why David Letterman did a great job of managing his crisis

10.) He was prompt
9.) He admitted fault
8.) He called his actions 'creepy'
7.) He made the announcement on national TV
6.) He apologized
5.) He used comedy, a powerful weapon, in an appropriate way
4.) He made clear he hadn't violated the workplace policies of either CBS or his own company
3.) He made clear that the timing of the workplace liaison predated his becoming married
2.) He was genuine in his remarks, and, drum roll please…………….

1.) He used the right platform at the right time and in the right way to convey the message

October 5 - david-letterman-heart-surgeryToo many CEOs balk at disclosing negative information. Or, they bumble their way through stiff, obviously rehearsed remarks. Or, they stop short of admitting fault and assuming responsibility. Or, they'll have a PR spokesperson handle the media on their behalf. Or, they'll let the lawyers control the message which ends up sounding like pure gibberish. Or, they'll bury their heads in the sand and hope to ride out the storm.

The Letterman story may have additional chapters before it ends. But, in my book, the man handled the image and reputation elements of the communications as well as I've ever seen.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Paul Schaefer and the 'Late Night' Band playing, 'I'm a Man,' by Chicago.

Sep 30

And I thought Wikipedia was bad

We were one of the 55 hapless public relations firms that responded to an initial RFP from Wikipedia. That's not a misprint. Wikipedia invited 55 firms to submit proposals. We actually did fairly well, making it to the 'semifinal round' of eight or 10 firms.

September 30 - Zappos_Logo

I was stunned to learn Wikipedia had spun so many wheels at so many agencies. But, the W types are pikers when compared to Zappos. According to the current issue of Ad Age, Zappos invited 100 ad agencies to pitch its business! Can you believe that? And, after a year of sifting through the proposals, they ended up selecting Mullen for what turned out to be a meager ad budget of only $7 million.

Some might attribute these fishing expeditions to inexperience or indecision on the part of the prospective client. I don't. I think it's a combination of hubris and insensitivity. Inviting 55 or 100 firms to pitch one's business is cruel and unusual punishment, and certainly no way to conduct business or treat one's fellow human beings.

I'd like to think the Wikipedia and Zappos cattle calls are one-offs. But, something tells me this sort of boorish behavior is becoming the norm and is just another manifestation of an overall societal meltdown of civility and decency.

Sep 29

Just declare it an open city like the French did with Paris

September 29 - morton511

Throughout history, when faced by insurmountable odds, military leaders have often abandoned a key fort or city to a rapidly-approaching foe. The Russians did it with Moscow when Napoleon's Grand Armee was bearing down on their frozen capital. And, the French returned the favor in June of 1940 when the Nazis had overrun their country and were blitzkrieging their way towards Paris.

I mention these historical footnotes because I see parallels to an agency's being asked to defend an existing account. The September 14th issue of Advertising Age contains an interesting editorial urging clients to tell defending agencies the truth when putting an account up for review.

I'm not sure what specific event, or series of events, prompted the piece, but it's thoughtful and ends with the following admonition to clients: 'There is shame….in leading an agency along, watching it waste money and time in a futile effort, because you either don't yet know what you are looking for – in which case you shouldn't have called a review in the first place – or because you simply didn't have the guts to tell your current agency the truth.'

We've had some very bad experiences defending existing accounts. In almost every instance, the client assured us they were merely 'seeing what other resources might be available' and told us we had the inside edge as a result of our hands-on knowledge. Yet, we lost almost every review.

When clients put accounts up for review, they do so because they're unhappy with the status quo. Period. Defending an account seldom works and ends up hurting agency morale.

The far better approach is to take a page from the history books, declare the account an 'open city' like Moscow or Paris and allow the invading armies (or agencies, in this case) inside the walls.

Aug 12

The vagaries of business: 1995-2009

August 12 - business-101 I had the opportunity to join a day-long meeting
of PR agency executives last week. While a few were excelling, most were
struggling in the current economy. Many, in fact, had taken Draconian cuts
to assure their firms remained profitable. Others had re-assigned formerly
billable staff to nearly full-time marketing and business development
activities. It was grim, to say the least.

I hope these firms succeed in their prospecting, but making changes after the
fact is akin to trying to run down the proverbial horse that's already bolted
from the barn.

But, I digress. At the meeting, participants agreed that clients were not only
inviting more firms than ever to pitch their business, but taking an inordinate
time to make a decision. One statement in particular took me aback. An agency
principal reported that his firm had won no fewer than three recent pieces of
business only to be told the client budget no longer existed. Ouch! It's tough
enough to chase down some of these leads. But, imagine receiving a call that
begins with the prospect/client saying, 'Herbert, I have some good news and
some bad news. Which would you like first?'

I went through the 'now you see it, now you don't' experience once before. It
was back in those lazy, hazy, crazy days of dotcom-mania. We'd pitched a
company, been awarded the business in the morning and then fired in the
afternoon. Apparently, the CMO had neither the authority nor the budget to hire
a firm. Nice.

Last week's therapy session also reminded me of Peppercom's first big setback.
We'd been in business for about three months when I received a call from a guy
with whom I'd once worked. He was now head of human resources at a global
chemical company and had a mega budget for employee communications. 'Steve,' he
said. 'I want you guys to overhaul everything. Soup to nuts. You give me the
budget and I'll authorize the purchase orders. Oh, and we need to start

Talk about manna from heaven! We had one or two other small clients at the time
but, in one fell swoop, this chemical company client was about to transform the
fledgling Peppercom into a multi-million dollar agency.

Ed and I quickly crafted the program (with Ed gleefully whipping together
massive budgets, btw). The two of us then barreled up Rt. 95 to Connecticut to present the plans and budget, and begin the work.

When we arrived at the reception desk and asked for the contact, however, we
received a puzzled look. 'Why don't you take a seat?' suggested the

About 20 minutes later, a woman came strolling out. She introduced herself as
the new head of human resources and corporate communications, and sighed, 'Did
no one contact you about John?' We shook our heads. 'Well,' she continued,
'John was fired last week. I saw your proposal and budgets and, frankly, have
no interest in working with you. I'm sorry you had to come all this way.'

Boom. Easy come, easy go. Talk about a long, brutal ride back to Manhattan. The word 'funeral' came to mind. 

I was never able to track John down to find out what had happened. And, he
never bothered calling me.

Ed and I overcame our shock and disbelief (as well as our intention to hire 10
people and move into new office space) and went back to cold calling new
business prospects. (Footnote: a variation of this anecdote occurred many years
later when a global CMO promised us a $10 million budget only to disappear a
few months later).

Business always has its ups and downs, in good times and bad. While
commiserating over one's bad luck can be cathartic, I've found the single
biggest 'secret' to success is resiliency. When an ITT, Panasonic or a Unisys
fires you, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off,  paste a smile on your
face and charge ahead.

There will always be clients who spin your wheels and dangle assignments and
budgets they have authority to award. And, every once in a while, there will be
a prospect who disappears completely after promising a wealth of riches. The
best remedy is to simply chalk it up to the vagaries of business: yesterday,
today and tomorrow.

Jul 16

Are brand image and customer service intrinsically linked? You can bank on it

July 16 A new J.D. Power retail banking survey shows that image is more important than proximity, products or service.

A bank's image is based upon a customer's unique experience. And the customer experience, in turn, drives his or her recommendations: both positive and negative. So, a bank literally lives or dies based upon how well it treats customers. And that is as it should be.

While these findings may elicit a 'no duh' from most marketers, it's shocking to see how many organizations still get it so wrong. Airlines and cable companies are classic examples (so are NJ Transit and my buddies at the TSA. But, that's another blog for another day).

While the airline and cable industries are making positive strides, they continue to suffer from what I've been calling the 'other' digital divide. On the one hand, airline and cable company marketing teams are champing at the bit to ramp up their social media efforts so they can better engage with customers. On the other hand, their peers in customer service are being incentivized to disengage from customers as quickly as possible. Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!

T.D. Bank, which earned top Power scores in the Mid-Atlantic region, gets the connection. They ensure brand and customer service are intrinsically linked. 'Before we hire someone, we see if they smile at us during the initial interview. Then we continue to measure and monitor their attitude to customers,' said Linda Verba, EVP of retail operations and service. A smile? So simple, but so utterly lacking in so many retail experiences.

Public relations can, and should, be playing a lead role in aiding airlines, cable companies and any consumer-facing organization improve their image. But, the best image work in the world can't overcome a horrific product or service experience. That's a C-suite responsibility that too many C-suites have abdicated. Maybe they should smile a little bit more?

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea behind this post.

Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Jun 23

I highly recommend it

Public relations is in the midst of unprecedented change. Traditional media relations, while still important, has been equaled, if not surpassed by social media. Indeed, we’re seeing more and more clients ask about word-of-mouth. How does one inspire, motivate and encourage a prospective or current customer to ‘recommend’ an organization’s product or service to a peer? The answer  to that single question contains the key to the future of marketing communications.

June 23 - socialmedia  

Like many forward-looking organizations, we’re grappling with how one goes about ‘encouraging’ or ‘enabling’ recommendations. We don’t know the full answer, but we have some ideas. In the spirit of openness and transparency, we’d like to get your perspective as well.

So, if you don’t mind, click the survey link below and let me know what you think. I promise to share the findings in a future blog that, I hope, you’ll highly recommend to others.

Check out the survey here.

Jun 22

Let’s see how big we can get before we get bad

June 22 - campaign_vw I'm in the midst of a real page-turner of a business book entitled, 'Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising.' I highly recommend it for anyone in the midst of, or considering, a career in marketing communications.

Written by Doris Willen, who served as Doyle Dane Bernbach's internal public relations director, the tome is a behind-the-scenes, kiss-and-tell all about the rise and fall of, arguably, advertising's greatest agency ever.

Bill Bernbach was the creative genius behind the DDB's rise. But, as the firm grew in prominence, some strange things started to happen. First, although others in the firm were creating the award-winning campaigns, Bernbach was claiming sole, public credit for them (and, considering the oversized egos one finds at any ad agency, that did not sit well). Second, once Bernbach, Dane and Doyle decided to take the firm public, and pocketed almost all of the proceeds for themselves, next generation talent began to grab the best accounts and head elsewhere.

That said, in their day, there was nothing quite like DDB or Bill Bernbach. They competed with one another to create the next, great ad that would:

– Be routinely covered by a Time or Newsweek
– Be envied by Manhattan's top art directors who would pin it on their own agency's bulletin board, and
– Attract new clients like bees to honey.

Bernbach was fearless with clients too. He'd walk away from any account that tried to meddle with his 'big idea.'

In the end, size killed DDB. They simply stopped working as hard to create truly 'great' advertising. And Bernbach's progeny, people such as Mary Wells, left to start their own hot shops. In the end, Bernbach fell victim to a flawed strategy that laid waste to another legendary adman, Jay Chiat, who once said, 'Let's see how big we get before we get bad.'

Doris Willens book is a cautionary tale that reinforces the slippery slope of success. When I look at public relations, I think of some of the once great brands that suffered fates similar to DDB's: Hill & Knowlton is a shell of the firm I joined in 1978. Global heavyweight Carl Byoir is gone completely. As is Rowland & Company. So, too, are the victims of the dotcom bust or the more recent 'great recession.’

While it's brutally tough to become a great agency, Bill Bernbach's fate is a great reminder that once they reach the top of the mountain, too many people and too many firms stop doing all the little things that got them there in the first place.

Jun 18

Hey, it could be worse. We could be lawyers.

June 18 When Kansas City-based Publicist Andi Ennis tells people what she does for a living, she says '…..she'll often get looks suggesting she had just morphed into a hideous bug.' Ouch. And NYC-based PR 'rep' Termeh Mazrahi says people assume she's 'incapable of making genuine, no-B.S. statements.' Double ouch.

Ennis and Mazrahi were interviewed for a ClassesUSA.com article headlined, 'Good careers with bad reputations.' In addition to 'publicist,' the other good career paths with bad reps are mortgage broker, executive recruiter, insurance agent and tax collector.

According to figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (and, I'll bet that's a fascinating read), PR specialist gigs are expected to grow by 18 percent in the next seven years. That's impressive, especially considering the industry-wide contraction in 2009.

I'm not surprised PR jobs have a bad rep. There are a number of reasons why:

  • Hollywood depicts PR people as either clueless, gum-popping blond party planners or sleazy snake oil salesmen
  • The media resent the role played by public relations practitioners in story development and go to great pains to ridicule us at every opportunity
  • Our various PR trade organizations do a woeful job of portraying the many facets of our profession and the countless, positive contributions we make to society.

As a result, we're stuck being listed alongside used car salesmen, mortgage brokers, headhunters and tax collectors. But, hey, it could be worse. We could be lawyers. As bad as our image may be, we'll never come remotely close to the reputation depths plumbed by the average lawyer.

I'm happy to see the strong job prognostications for PR. And, I'm not at all surprised by the 'hideous bug' reaction. But, I am curious as to the type of bug Ms. Ennis would describe as hideous. A tarantula, perhaps? A red ant? Wasps do it for me. In fact, they scare the bejesus out of me. Even more than the average lawyer.

*Special thanks to Jessica Hayward and Matt Sloustcher for the idea.

Jun 10

It’s about the past and the future, not the present

June 10 Knowing that PR Week is about to publish its annual list of the industry's '25 most powerful people' and Ad Age just published its '25 women to watch', I thought I'd weigh in with a few thoughts:

1) These lists reflect the here and now. Who really cares about the newly-minted head of global comms at Weber, The World Wildlife Fund or Weed Wacker? I'd much rather see what these gurus have accomplished in their uber posts over a period of time as opposed to what power they might wield.

2) I can't tell you how many power brokers from previous lists no longer hold their once lofty titles and influential posts. Many have bounced around from one job to the next or left the business entirely. One of Fortune's 50 most powerful women in business is now raising horses in the desert. In short, today's power broker is often tomorrow's job seeker.

3) These lists are popularity contests and reflect whose publicity team has done the best job of influencing the reporters who pull the rankings together.

Public relations and advertising are in the midst of unprecedented upheaval. Rather than trotting out the names of new heavyweights occupying the same old seats, PR Week, Ad Age and others should be digging deep to find out where the next Harold Burson, Chuck Porter or David Ogilvy will come from.

Traditional business models are being disintermediated as we speak. So, to answer PR Week's provocative question about its upcoming list: I couldn't care less if last year's most powerful person retains the number one rank this year. Ditto for Ad Age and its list: it's nice, but really rather irrelevant.

Do your readers a real service with your lists: tell us who's continually reinventing his or her business model every year and/or give me your best guess as to who's creating the future of marketing communications. Tell us who you think the disrupters will be and why. Do that and I'll actually care who finishes first.

These lists should be about the past and the future, not the present.