“All Ashore That’s Going Ashore!” Especially Kids!

I like to foment unrest. It’s part of my DNA. I’d rather be remembered for taking a stance on a subject than disappear alongside the vast majority of Americans who choose to go with the flow. That’s why I’m devoting today’s column to Viking Cruise Line’s decision to ban ALL children from their highly-acclaimed river cruises. Let me begin by stating that river cruises hold no allure for me. I’m not the type to sit around with well-heeled, aging Boomers and gape at a Gothic cathedral as the ship glides majestically by. Nor am I the type to go sightseeing (unless I can first include an intense two-hour workout). The above notwithstanding, I salute Viking’s decision to prohibit kids from their uber high-end cruises. I’ve always said I adore my kids, but I disdain other parents’ offspring 😎 My feelings are based on multiple, first-hand experiences, two of which include the
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How do you judge success?

Today’s oh-so-timely guest blog is authored by Laura West, Peppercomm’s Head of Analytics. Btw, we’d love to know your take on the Nike campaign, so comment at will… There are any number of ways to evaluate Nike’s Kaepernick campaign. Some call it: “shrewd,” others say it’s “a bold statement”. The president called it “a terrible message.” Pundits say it’s “a calculated risk.” Is Nike’s ad a success? What do the facts say? There is always a friendly bit of data pointing at an answer we may like, no matter our political/social opinions:
  • Fact: The President of the United States has denounced Nike’s ad
  • Also fact: Lebron James has lauded it
  • Fact: #NikeBoycott was trending on Twitter on Tuesday
  • Also fact: #Nike and #JustDoIt were trending on Wednesday
As most
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23

It’s hard to believe that Peppercomm began its improbable rise to fame and fortune 23 years ago today. I say improbable because there was no reason to expect success. After all, why would yet another start-up in the highly competitive PR firmament succeed? The answer? Our name. I decided to name the firm in honor of my late black lab, Pepper. The name turned out to be a godsend. It was at that precise moment in time the dotcom boom was in overdrive. Venture capitalists were pouring billions of dollars into dotcoms with any semblance of a business plan (as well as many that did not). The phone began ringing off the hook. Why? Because dotcoms mistakenly thought Peppercom (there was only one M in those days) was a dotcom specialist. We weren’t. But we hired tech PR specialists faster than you can say IPO and, by 1998, O’Dwyer’s had
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Google “Trapped Animal”

Today’s guest blog is authored by Steve Goodwin, a principal at Brand Foundations, a strategic branding & purpose partner of Peppercomm’s. Enjoy….. Yet again this week, we’re reminded that a trapped, wounded animal is dangerous. Like an orange pain-riddled bear with his leg hopelessly caught in a snare trap, President Trump lashed out at Google, accusing the search giant of baking the results in favor of liberal media outlets so that a search of “Trump news” always returns negative stories. [An aside: I’d offer the president the same gentle advice I’ve been giving to clients for years: “Uh… you have more control over this than you may think.”] As is far too often the case, the president’s info started as a discredited story being peddled on Fox before it made its way into his never-used-a-computer brain and out his tiny tweeting fingers. Google, to its credit, responded with
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Updated Packaging Keeps Animal Crackers Out of the Soup

I had the distinct pleasure of working with Chris Tennyson at Hill & Knowlton at a time in history when H&K was considered the Tiffany’s of the PR universe. There was H&K, and then there was everyone else. But, that was then and this is now.   After leaving H&K in the mid-1980s, Chris went on to build a formidable career on both the corporate and agency sides of our business. Today’s guest blog is excerpted from his upcoming book, “The Crisis Preparedness Quotient – Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm.”  The excerpt, just like the book itself, is a MUST read for anyone counseling a CCO, CMO or CEO. Enjoy! This week the Nabisco division of Mondelez International unveiled a newsworthy packaging redesign of its Barnum’s Animals cookies. Since 1902, small boxes of America’s favorite brand of animal crackers have been adorned with images of circus
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Another brand is being roasted for not taking a smart stand

Today’s guest blog comes courtesy of Matt Purdue, one of my Peppercomm colleagues who started his career as a sports journalist yet still can’t win our fantasy football league…. When will brands finally realize that standing in the middle of the road on controversial issues of the day is only going to get them run over? And maybe even run over by the most powerful influencer on Earth. Our latest victim is ESPN, which is being blindsided for doing…well…nothing really. In the midst of the NFL’s bubbling anthem controversy, an ESPN executive recently stated that the network was sticking to its longtime policy of not broadcasting the anthem before games. In fact, most networks don’t broadcast the anthem unless it’s a special occasion. Our president, however, has chosen to ignore this reality (as he is often wont to do). Last night, President Trump blasted ESPN at a rally. “It was
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A brand brave enough to embrace its weakness

Fact: The Cleveland Browns lost every single game last season. They hold the distinction of being one of the few NFL franchises to ever record such a dubious accomplishment. Fact: Bud Light is one of three or four mega beer brands that routinely spends hundreds of millions of dollars to convince the NFL faithful to sip their suds while lounging on couches and channel surfing from one game to another. Fact: The two organizations partnered to shine the spotlight on Cleveland’s horrific team AND create a brilliant, breakthrough campaign that has this blogger shaking his head and thinking, “How come I didn’t come up with something this smart and strategic?” Then I remember that my personal and professional motto is: “Expect Less.” That comforting reminder enables me to de-stress. But I digress. In case you don’t want to read the article link, here’s the gist of the
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It’s Not a Matter of If, But When

In our tumultuous scandal-riddled, societal crises-driven landscape, organizational vulnerability has never been more fragile. And the role of the CCO/CMO has never been under greater stress. But, for those who anticipate, plan, test and re-test the societal crisis response systems, the opportunity to rise above the fray and bring clarity to the fog of war has never been more readily available. Ah, but one needs to know where to look, determine what constitutes a brand threat, assure your response will align with the organization’s higher purpose AND then decide if, how and when to respond. I had the amazing opportunity to co-host an IPR-sponsored webinar (playback available next week) yesterday with Linda Rutherford, SVP and Chief Communications Officer of Southwest Airlines. We were simultaneously addressing the best practices IPR and Peppercomm, my firm, had gleaned from in-depth interviews with 50 leading CCO/CMOs. I enumerated the top-line research findings
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It’s Not a Matter of If, But When

In our tumultuous scandal-riddled, societal crises-driven landscape, organizational vulnerability has never been more fragile. And the role of the CCO/CMO has never been under greater stress. But, for those who anticipate, plan, test and re-test the societal crisis response systems, the opportunity to rise above the fray and bring clarity to the fog of war has never been more readily available. Ah, but one needs to know where to look, determine what constitutes a brand threat, assure your response will align with the organization’s higher purpose AND then decide how and when to respond. I had the amazing opportunity to co-host an IPR-sponsored webinar (playback available next week) yesterday with Linda Rutherford, senior vice president, chief communications officer of Southwest Airlines. We were simultaneously addressing the best practices IPR and Peppercomm, my firm, had gleaned from in-depth interviews with 50 leading CCO/CMOs. I enumerated the top-line research
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You’re Fired!

I’m impressed by the actions of Fallon, Olson Engage and Initiative to step up, stand out and fire their client Papa John’s in the aftermath of the N-word controversy. Skeptics could argue that, by firing Papa John’s, each agency will now attract new, and more reputable, clients as a result. One could also surmise such a move will motivate existing employees to stay put while attracting recruits with a desire to work for an agency with ethics. Perhaps. But I can tell you as an owner of a 22-year-old firm, it’s very tough to walk away from guaranteed billings. Very tough indeed. Setting aside higher purpose for a moment, the owners of Fallon, Olson Engage and Initiative also have a payroll to meet. And, that’s when an entrepreneur has to stop and think about the implications of firing a quasi blue-chip client like Papa John’s. Sure, your Millennials will love
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Animal Lovers Take Note

One can be excused for missing the various Obama-era regulations that are being overturned right and left by the current administration. But, one New York Times headline in particular caught my attention, “Push to weaken law protecting at-risk wildlife.” According to the article, the Endangered Species Act, which has been on the books for 45 years is now under attack by the White House, lawmakers and, of course, ranching, logging and oil drilling lobbyists. Why? Because the act protected such rare animals as the gray wolf in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes, the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil rich acres in the West and the American Burying Beetle, yet another bane to oil-drilling companies. In the past two weeks alone, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken  the Endangered Species Act have either been introduced
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A culture of courage?

Thanks to the Papa John/Laundry Service imbroglio, the marketing world at large can be excused for missing a major societal crisis that recently engulfed Deloitte, the Big Four accounting firm. In a nutshell, some 750 employees signed a petition calling for the firm to end its multiple consulting contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the same time, a group of 100 or more employees protested outside Deloitte’s Manhattan headquarters holding up placards that read, “Shame, Shame. Shame.” And “Families Belong Together.” The petition, as well as an e-mail, were sent directly to Deloitte’s CEO, Gaby Engelbert. In addition to demanding Deloitte sever all ties with ICE, employees insisted the firm take a public stance against the Trump Administration’s  policy that resulted in migrant children being separated from their parents. Engelbert responded with her own e-mail, saying she “appreciated” the employees’ concerns and added, “We often
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Blessed be the fruit – as long as it doesn’t toast rape

Today’s guest blog is authored by Scottie Ellis, who doubles as a superstar and our lone employee in Louisville, Kentucky. Like many of you, Scottie is an avid fan of The Handmaid’s Tale and, like many of you, was beyond insulted at what might have been the worst brand extension idea in many a moon. Here’s her take on the wine that died on the vine….. Developing a line of ‘seductive’ wines based off of women stripped of their rights and freedom, who are enslaved for rape and reproduction? All in the name of commodity. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are likely aware of Hulu’s Golden Globe winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, based off of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel. The story has found new life, not only thanks to the show led by Elizabeth Moss, but also, unfortunately, due to our current political state. Audiences have found
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It’s the audience, stupid

Unless you’ve been otherwise engaged during the past 48 hours, you’d know the public relations world is up in arms about Steven Pearlstein’s lambasting of our noble profession. The Washington Post’s business and economics columnist’s piece of July castigates “flacks” for ducking his calls, forcing him to send his inquiry to “…an e-mail drop box” or asking him to leave “…..a message with a ‘media hotline’ that invariably is unmanned 24/7.” Pearlstein seems to think this sort of behavior is standard operating procedure. It’s not. But to prove his supposition, Pearlstein conducted a search of the rival New York Times’ Business Section and listed the names of 16 companies that either declined to comment or “were rude enough to never respond to a reporter’s questions.” I can’t speak for those 16 companies or the fine folks at Clorox, whose PR representative took a special beating for telling Pearlstein
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McKinsey & The Mob

How’s that for a headline? Did it stop you in your tracks? Good. That’s the job of any writer, no matter how mediocre. Now, allow me to explain why I linked these strange bedfellows in the same headline. Kevin Sneader, the “newly appointed” CEO of McKinsey, the most respected, management consulting firm in  the world, will be in Johannesburg, South Africa, today to apologize for his outfit’s shameful behavior. You can read the gist of it in the embedded link but, in essence, McKinsey knowingly got in bed with unscrupulous characters who had direct ties to the country’s corrupt government and bled the South African coffers dry with obscenely high fees. Why did McKinsey knowingly hike its fees to stratospheric levels? The semi-apologetic CEO explained it away as a relatively new office management wanting to establish a thriving practice in the shortest amount of time. So I guess their thinking
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The prototypical CEO of the Future

Delta CEO Ed Bastian is a man I would follow into battle. Why? Because he has the courage of his convictions. He stands up, speaks out and says what’s needed to be said in the aftermath of one of our all-too-frequent societal crises. And, as he told Fortune CEO Daily, he does so WITHOUT his board’s prior approval. I’d like to believe that if Ernest Hemingway were alive today he’d define Bastian’s decisiveness as “grace under pressure.” To jog the uninformed reader’s memory, I will remind you that Bastian’s comments came after he had discontinued passenger discounts to NRA members in the aftermath of the horrible Parkland, Florida, Middle School mass shooting. When the fine folks who comprise the Georgia State Legislature heard about Bastian’s decision, they immediately threatened to yank a $40 million tax break for the Atlanta-headquartered airline. Bastian immediately responded with the now memorable words, “Delta’s
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The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Did you ever think you’d live to see the day that General Electric, one of the icons of American business and industry, was dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average? And to add insult to injury the corporation, founded by Thomas Edison, has been replaced by something called Walgreens Boots Alliance. Holy embarrassment, Batman! I’m especially flabbergasted by this since my firm and I once had quite the relationship with GE. It all began when Valerie Di Maria, the current owner of the 10 Company and, way back when, the CCO of GE Capital, called me to ask if an itsy, bitsy start-up PR firm called Peppercomm would be interested in pitching what was then known as GE Financial (it was later spun-off as Genworth). Needless to say, I was thrilled by the opportunity. That’s when Peter Harris, then a Peppercomm partner and, today, the CEO of The Harris Agency
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When did being single become a crime?

Today’s guest blog is written by a young lady who absolutely tore it up during her five-year stint at Peppercomm and is now doing the same at a top 10 global firm. Her column, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with public relations and everything to do with the increasing insensitivity of people and in every walk of life…. At a Memorial Day barbeque last weekend, a family friend asked me, “So, have you met any special guys yet?” I responded with humor to deflect the hurt: “I meet lots of guys – none of them are special, though.” I’m used to this question. As an almost 30-year-old woman who is – GASP – still single, I hear it a lot. I expect it from family and friends. I DON’T expect it from Adweek. (In case you missed it, Adweek’s Patrick Coffee wrote an article in April detailing
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Lowering the Barr

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Deb Brown, Partner and Managing Director at Peppercomm.   Kudos to ABC and Disney for taking a courageous stand against the star and executive producer of its highest rated show “Roseanne,” canceling the series due to an outrageous racist tweet from Roseanne Barr yesterday. The highly insensitive tweet was an attack on Valerie Jarrett, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Although Barr apologized, others involved in the show and ABC still did the right thing and distanced themselves from Barr, underscoring that apologies are just not enough. Some words have serious consequences and hollow apologies just don’t cut it. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungy was quoted as saying, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” Inconsistent with our values. Four powerful words that speak volumes. Recently, Peppercomm and the
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Gun Control Will Have No Effect Whatsoever on the Monthly Melee of Mass School Shootings

Before the NRA offers to sponsor my website and paramilitary types everywhere submit their resumes to Peppercomm, allow me to clarify the headline: Those are the words of Malcolm Gladwell, not mine. I adore Gladwell’s books, columns and podcasts (Note to reader: If Gladwell’s name is foreign to you, get thee to a library, Amazon.com or ANY other source of news and information you prefer ASAP, and read his collected works. The social consciousness you save may be your own). Mass school shootings are arguably THE most volatile societal crisis subject facing chief communications officers of Fortune 500 companies today. Widely acknowledged to the be the ethical, and moral, compass of the organization, the CCO nonetheless treads a minefield-laden battleground. Does she insist her CEO stand smart and speak up for gun control or, weighing the negative reactions of critical stakeholders, does she limit the CEO’s reaction to employees
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