Sometimes bad publicity IS worse than no publicity at all


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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One of the more satisfying aspects of the multidimensional profession otherwise known as public relations is media training. It’s one of the few times when we exchange the seat of power with senior client executives and tell them what to do (or, shall I say, gently suggest what to do?). Media training is equal parts art and science and when practiced to perfection will end up with key client quotes and messages finding their way into articles and highlighted on cable interviews or, in rare cases, actually used as the headline by a leading business publication. Sometimes, though, the best laid plans of mice and men (and media training) can go awry. Case in point: The end results of the obviously botched media training of Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei by the fine folks at Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW). As you’ll read in Clay Chandler’s column, BCW (which just
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Bananas Found to Have Caused The Bubonic Plague


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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I’ll bet that headline stopped you in the midst of your cereal of granola, soy milk and sliced bananas. It’s completely false, of course, but I predict we’ll be reading a similar headline after the deep-pocketed sports drink industry has had an opportunity to digest a new finding from researchers at the North Carolina Research Center Campus of Appalachian State University in Kannapolis (how’s that for a mouthful? What’s the school nickname? The Polysyllabic Panthers?). Anyway, school researchers conducted a series of exhaustive studies (are there any other kind?) of cyclists to determine if water, sports drinks or good, old bananas provided the most benefits for athletes after they completed their routes. The studies were funded by Dole Bananas who naturally, claimed they had had no involvement in “the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.” Sure. And, I never
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Neither Jail Time, Stiff Fines Nor a One-Way Ticket to Mars will Stop Silicon Valley Leakers from Leaking


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Ever read something and experience an immediate flashback to another period in your life? No? Well, I just did. And this is the article that triggered my business version of PTSD. It’s a piece from CNN.com reporting that Apple’s senior management has threatened dire consequences to ANY employee who is caught leaking internal information. Unfortunately the threatening memo was, well, leaked to CNN. And, here’s the personal flashback it triggered. Along with my Peppercomm peers, I enjoyed a front-row seat as the newly-minted CEO of the now moribund Yahoo addressed a worldwide audience of employees. She was there to deliver her state-of-the-company address. By way of quick background, Yahoo had been plagued by internal civil wars that were being played out daily in Silicon Valley rags thanks to, you guessed it, workers leaking sensitive information. Back to the CEO and her inaugural address. After acknowledging the thunderous applause from
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This red, red robin isn’t bob bobbing along


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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I’m not a fan of self-help gurus. Their modus operandi mirrors the value proposition firms such as Bain, Booz-Allen have peddled for years: They study your problem, tell you what you already know and then charge you a few millions dollars to implement the changes they recommend. Tony Robbins is the best-known self-help guru. He excels at superimposing a feel-good spin on conventional wisdom and then charging you beaucoup bucks for what you already know you need to do to improve your lot in life. Nice gig, no? Not always. Recently, Tony blew it big time by NOT listening to a major issue keeping his female flock up at night: the #MeToo movement. Instead of demanding immediate across-the-board changes Robbins, instead, chastised women for “victimizing” the issue in order to generate publicity and scoop up some quick dollars. He was wrong. Dead wrong. But, Tony wouldn’t back down. Just watch
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A Night at the Museum…


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Taylor Shawver and Shannon Thornton, two of Peppercomm’s sure fire leaders of tomorrow, took time out of their busy schedules to pen a guest blog about what the PR workplace experience of the past was like for three pioneering women. A big thank you to Shelley Spector and The Museum of Public Relations for hosting an event that highlighted female pioneers and enlightened the likes of Shannon, Taylor and so many other young PR practitioners……. To help celebrate Women’s History Month, Peppercomm had the honor of being a sponsor for the second annual PR Women Who Changed History™ event hosted by The Museum of Public Relations. The event, which occurred on March 1st featured a riveting discussion among three of history’s most important PR pioneers–Barbara Hunter, Muriel Fox, and Saralie Slonsky. The trailblazers put us in their virtual time machine and provided a fascinating glimpse into what life was
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Sometimes smarter is better than lighter (or stupidity)


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Just when I thought yet another tone-deaf advertising agency creative or in-house marketing executive couldn’t possibly produce yet another insensitive, racially-charged TV spot, along comes Heineken to prove me wrong. If you haven’t seen “Lighter is better” and, odds are you won’t since Heineken yanked it off the air almost immediately, take a gander: Heineken pulls ‘Sometimes lighter is better’ ad after racism claims Now, take a guess who was morally outraged by the commercial? Bingo! People of color. Why? Well, because the white bartender in the spot takes careful aim and hurtles a Heineken bottle of beer underneath, around and past bar patrons of color before it reaches its final destination: the hand of an attractive light skinned woman. These are the types of unexplainable and egregious gaffes that, in 30 seconds, can undo years of community goodwill, corporate social responsibility AND the morale of an entire workforce. Then
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Even in the Age of AI, Just Tell Me a Story


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Ann Barlow, Peppercomm’s West Coast President, penned this guest blog.  It reinforces the need for great storytelling and explains why smart marketers at the recent SXSW are wising-up to the limitations (and excessive costs) of technology, digital and enterprise solutions while doubling down on crisp, clear and compelling content…. Elon Musk told a riveted SXSW audience last week that we should be more afraid of artificial intelligence than of nuclear weapons. I have a healthy respect for the threat that unchecked machine learning capabilities in particular could pose, but at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, mostly I just lament the loss of human interaction that technology has brought about. That’s why I was heartened by one of the other themes that surfaced from this year’s trend-forecasting extravaganza. As TechRepublic reported in a piece called SXSW 2018: The 5 Business Takeaways that Mattered, the 5th takeaway says
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Drink innovators: bold play or just plain gross?


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Today’s guest blog was co-authored by two rising stars at Peppercomm, Courtney Moed and Heather Valle, who not only know everything about PR, but can discuss product innovation from a Millennial’s POV. What better way to ride out a Nor’Easter? Even if you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Unicorn Frappuccino at Starbucks. The trendy, colorful drink took Instagram by storm with over 151,000 posts under the hashtag #unicornfrappuccino. Starbucks saw what a success the unicorn trend was becoming and jumped on the opportunity to turn the frapp into a real product offering with a registered trademark. While other brands are following the trends, Starbucks is a leader in turning trends into profits. Coffee purveyors and other non-food brands should take note of Starbucks secret to success – well one of them. Sometimes you need to go a little off brand to capture some media buzz.
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Yesterday’s Mistakes can be Today’s Opportunities


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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We’re in the final stages of completing an exhaustive, co-branded research report in tandem with The Institute for Public Relations. The purpose is to more fully understand how CCOs across myriad industries are coping with crisis preparedness and response in this new era of Trump Tweets, Fake News and seemingly innocuous actions finding their way on the front pages of media properties near and far (Think: Snapshot’s ill-conceived pot shot at Rihanna). I admit though that, aside from #MeToo incidents, I hadn’t given much thought to past organizational mistakes, transgressions and outrages as opportunities to not only right wrongs but double down on an organization’s Purpose and Values. My enlightenment is due in large part to my longtime friend and associate, Chris Tennyson, who just added a rearview mirror to my fully-equipped crisis HUMVEE. In his soon to be published book, Tennyson takes a page out of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse
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United Airlines Continues to Be Dogged by Self-Inflicted Image Problems. But Do We Care?


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Today’s guest blog was penned by Peppercomm’s Ann Barlow who weighs in a yet another atrocious crisis courtesy of the airline with the least friendly skies imaginable…. On Tuesday, we learned about the poor dog that died onboard one United flight when it was consigned to the overhead bin, and then the next day about another that went to Japan instead of Kansas (anyone could make that mistake). Like many of you, we at Peppercomm shook our heads at the level of callousness that CEO Oscar Munoz seems content to foster, and wondered at the tatters that United’s reputation has been left in following yet another set of senseless actions. Then my colleague Matt Purdue asked the question: Does it really matter? He pointed out that United’s stock has not suffered despite all of the well-publicized treatment the airline has visited on its paying passengers. And, maybe worse, when we
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United Airlines Continues to Be Dogged by Self-Inflicted Image Problems. But Do We Care?


This post is by Steve Cody from


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Today’s guest blog was penned by Peppercomm’s Ann Barlow who weighs in a yet another atrocious crisis courtesy of the airline with the least friendly skies imaginable…. On Tuesday, we learned about the poor dog that died onboard one United flight when it was consigned to the overhead bin, and then the next day about another that went to Japan instead of Kansas (anyone could make that mistake). Like many of you, we at Peppercomm shook our heads at the level of callousness that CEO Oscar Munoz seems content to foster, and wondered at the tatters that United’s reputation has been left in following yet another set of senseless actions. Then my colleague Matt Purdue asked the question: Does it really matter? He pointed out that United’s stock has not suffered despite all of the well-publicized treatment the airline has visited on its paying passengers. And, maybe worse, when we
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Fear Sells (Or Does It?)


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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As someone whose firm has represented countless insurance companies over the years, I’ve noticed a cyclical nature to the marketing themes and lemmings-like mentality of the field. In recent times, for example, it’s been hard to find a single insurer that hasn’t employed comedy, a humorous situation or an actual character a la Allstate’s Mayhem to depict how truly dangerous, and fleeting, our lives are (but, in a laugh out loud funny kind of way). Recently, though, Principal Insurance decided to change the rules and began playing the doom-and-gloom card. This one-minute video is a typical example. There’s no question that fear is a powerful motivator. But, there’s a fine line to tread between scaring someone half to death and providing sound financial planning advice. I think Principal stepped over the line in this particular spot. I’d be hard pressed to suggest any additional optics, music or non-verbals to convey
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Simply the Worst


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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While Donald J. Trump always manages to tell those who will listen that he’ll be remembered as the greatest president ever, a recent survey reveals POTUS has a mountain the height of Mt. Everest to climb in order to deliver on his boasts. According to the just released “Presidents & Executive Politics Presidential Greatness Survey,” Donald J. Trump finished DEAD LAST. The survey was taken of 320 members of the American Political Science Association (APSA), which bills itself as “….the foremost organization of social science experts in presidential politics.” And, who am I to say otherwise? But, I digress. The APSA  asked respondents to rate each president on a scale of 0-100 for their overall greatness, with 0=Failure, 50=Average and 100=Great. The group then averaged the ratings for each president and ranked them from highest average to lowest. Not surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln topped the list, followed by George
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Delta Does the Right Thing… for the Wrong Reason


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Today’s guest blog is authored by Steve Goodwin (BrandFoundations), a longtime friend and strategic partner to Peppercomm… No one was surprised this past weekend when air carrier Delta joined the growing list of corporations abandoning business relationships with the NRA. The move made sense in light of the white-hot debate that’s gripped the nation in the wake of the horrible and senseless massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It seemed – at least at first blush – that Delta was taking a purpose-based stand, and that its purpose (or North Star) dictated that the company come down firmly on the opposite side of the NRA on this particular issue. Cue the applause track for a corporation brave enough to stand on its morals, knowing full well that it’s going to take some incoming flack for doing so. But don’t hit “play” quite yet. You
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Purpose-based decisions


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Whether you’re for or against Second Amendment rights and the role of the NRA, you must admit the number of organizations that have severed any, and all, ties with the powerful association is staggering. While I’m not 100 percent positive, I’d be willing to bet the organizations in question were merely doubling down on their corporate purpose. Corporate purpose has become increasingly important for organizations large and small since it serves as their North Star and guides any, and all, public stances on the mega issues of the day. If you haven’t checked out the Arthur W. Page Society’s thinking on the critical role corporate purpose plays in determining messaging in a Trump Tweeting/Fake News world, you should. Just visit www.awpagesociety.com. But, I digress. We’re in the process of interviewing 25 CCOs of Fortune 500 companies to better understand how they are handling mega societal crises such as
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Saluting ethics in an unethical world


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Next Wednesday evening I’ll be attending the Arthur W. Page Center for integrity in public communications 2018 awards dinner. In case you may be unfamiliar with the Center, it was created in 2004 and dedicated to the study and advancement of ethics and responsibility in corporate communications and other forms of communication. In the span of 14 short years the Center, which is headquartered at Penn State University, has become an international leader in research on ethics and integrity in public communication. It’s funded more than 200 scholars and awarded more than $700,000 in research. The awards dinner was created by the Page Center Advisory Board and named in honor of Larry Foster, a renowned communicator during his time as both as journalist and PR practitioner. This year’s honorees are: –      Bill George, senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former CEO of Medtronic –      John Onoda, consultant
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Morality is a job for priests. Not PR Men.


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Anyone who toils in public relations or one day aspires to join our field MUST make it her business to read about the rise and fall of Bell Pottinger. This superb New York Times front page article will dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” for you. Long story made short, Bell Pottinger, a 30-year-old, high profile player in the U.K. PR world shuttered its doors after a series of reprehensible programs it had concocted to stir racial strife in South Africa went very, very wrong and nearly tore the country apart. The firm, founded by Tim Bell who helped Margaret Thatcher win three go-rounds as PM, had had a long, and checkered, career of representing very evil people and institutions. To wit:

Why do smart people make dumb decisions?


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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I don’t know if you caught the rather tepid furor over Amazon’s decision to sell a line of products with the slogan, “Slavery Gets S**t Done.” That’s right, Amazon was selling baseball caps, T-shirts and a whole host of other products with that obscene slogan. What puzzles me the most is this: How could a product line with such an obviously racist and offensive tagline possibly make its way up the corporate food chain at Amazon and EVER see the light of day? I’m guessing the idea came from someone in either the in-house creative, merchandising or licensing groups. Then it would have had to make its way through the approval process that must have included a senior business unit executive and, I would hope, a trained legal counsel. So, how could do many people be so deaf, dumb and blind? It truly defies logic. Amazon yanked the offensive
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Nice to see NBC Won’t be Taking a Knee


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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One story that was completely overlooked during the recently completed round of NFL playoff games was NBC’s staunch decision to spotlight kneeling by Super Bowl players of color during the playing of the national anthem. That’s a pretty gutsy move considering any number of conservative, America First, deep-pocketed advertisers are probably deciding right now whether to yank their advertising or let it ride (or, if they don’t pull their spend, Tweet an immediate corporate response distancing themselves from NBC and the kneeling players). Many organizations would see the kneeling question as a real conundrum: 1.) If we don’t cover kneeling players, we won’t lose millions of sponsor dollars. But will we be doing the right thing? 2.) If we do cover the kneeling, we’ll undoubtedly lose millions of dollars. But, we’ll be staying true to our values. NBC didn’t flinch. Their Super Bowl Executive Producer, Fred Gaudelli, said,
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It’s a Brave New World at the Intersection of Purpose and Profit


This post is by Steve Cody from Rep Man


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Peppercomm has long had the pleasure of partnering with a superb firm known as BrandFoundations. In recent years, they’ve expanded their solution set to include assisting organizations create a purpose. The following blog is guest authored by one of BF’s principals Steve Goodwin (AKA “The Other Steve”). Enjoy…. I’m hopeful that at least some Repman readers will admit to being old enough to remember the classic E.F. Hutton TV ads from the 1970s and ‘80s that always closed with the investment giant reminding us: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Flash forward to this week, and you can bet people are listening after a current investment heavyweight had something to say. In an open letter to the CEOs of the world’s largest public companies, BlackRock founder and chief executive Laurence Fink threw down the gauntlet, informing these leaders that profits alone will no longer be enough to
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