6 questions with: Steve Cody of Peppercomm

CEO Steve Cody of the strategic communications firm Peppercomm shares his favorite workplace app, what communications challenges keep him up at night, and the biggest career threat he’s ever faced. 

He’s a standup comedian in addition to being Peppercomm’s founder: CEO Steve Cody leads his purpose-driven marketing firm with humor and kindness. We caught up with Cody to get his take on the future of comms pros and the evolving communications industry for our new “6 questions with” series — an update of our classic “Day in the Life” profiles.

What book, podcast or other media do you recommend to other comms pros?

Cody: 1.) Let’s start with books: I highly recommend “Bully Market” by Jamie Fiore Higgins, “Profiles in Ignorance” by Andy Borowitz and “Humor, Seriously” by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonis. 

2.) Axios, Fortune’s CEO Daily, The Skimm and BBC World News are my MUST reads. 

3.) The very best PR podcast is “The Crux.” Period. 

 What’s your favorite tool you use regularly for work?

I have two.

The first is the Hemingway Editor (It’s very helpful whether I’m sending a quick e-mail or writing a bylined article). 

The other “tool” I use in many different situations is self-deprecating humor. I think it’s an essential tool for any executive who actually believes in servant leadership. Humor also enables me to differentiate myself from the vast majority of PR executives who take themselves FAR too seriously. It also erases any perceived “walls, ceilings or barriers” between my employees and me.

 What excites you most about the future of communications?

That’s easy. Public relations, which some Nostradamus types in the digital world proclaimed dead or dying in 2017, is easily the most important “weapon” in any CMO’s integrated communications arsenal. We, and we alone, are front and center when it comes to establishing, maintaining or rebuilding an organization’s reputation. 

What communications challenge keeps you up at night?

Market uncertainty, the possible ripple effect of the massive downsizings we’re now seeing in multiple sectors and, of course, continuing to attract and retain the very best professionals in our field. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?

The very nasty business divorce I went through in 2018. There was a real possibility I’d lose my best people and most important clients. Instead, my top executives came together in an unprecedented way and not only helped me keep Peppercomm afloat but, in 2022, enabled us to post the best top and bottom-line growth numbers in our firm’s 27-year history. Looking back, I can say the business divorce was the very BEST thing that’s happened in my career. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

A CEO I once reported to was reviewing a newsletter I’d written (and had not proofread in advance). He was very patient (and very kind) as he pointed out one mistake after another. As we concluded I thanked him and then asked why he’d been so cool about it. He said, “A leader should always be patient and kind to his direct reports when they make mistakes because those direct reports will one day be leaders themselves and should treat their reports the way I just did with you.”

Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.


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