ANALYSIS: Profile - Cody: Cinnamon, spice and all things nice - A masterful promoter of his clients, his agency and himself, Steve Cody has maneuvered PepperCom into one of the hottest agencies around. Jessica Sung reports.

PepperCom has been hailed as a hotshot Internet firm. But success may not have come so quickly for managing partner Steve Cody had he owned a cat or been more rigid about abbreviations. His agency is named after Cody's dog and an abbreviation of the word 'communications'. It's as if the name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

PepperCom has been hailed as a hotshot Internet firm. But success may not have come so quickly for managing partner Steve Cody had he owned a cat or been more rigid about abbreviations. His agency is named after Cody's dog and an abbreviation of the word 'communications'. It's as if the name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

PepperCom has been hailed as a hotshot Internet firm. But success may not have come so quickly for managing partner Steve Cody had he owned a cat or been more rigid about abbreviations. His agency is named after Cody's dog and an abbreviation of the word 'communications'. It's as if the name has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While many firms that put their faith (and account roster) entirely in the dot-com sector have struggled recently, PepperCom has weathered the Internet shakeout rather well. After the agency pulled in dollars 4.5 million last year, an 80% increase over 1998. Peppercom has continued to expand.

There are plans to open offices in San Francisco and London by January of next year. And most intriguing of all is a new 'parallel company' set for launch in October.



The million-dollar accident

What's PepperCom's secret? It's not just the enticingly Web-friendly name, which Cody calls 'the million-dollar accident' because it helped the firm attract clients during the start of the Internet explosion. The secret may well be Steve Cody himself.

'A lot of PR ends up being tactical, but Steve's talent is to provide the strategic guidance that clients are looking for,' says Bill Southard, president of Southard Communications and one of Cody's former bosses at integrated shop Earle Palmer Brown.

Cody is the mastermind behind PepperCom's unique partnership and positioning strategies. The firm has partnered all its clients with research-oriented academic institutions. For example, the partnership between Ernst & Young and Duke University's Fuqua School has made the company appear more credible to the media.

'Positioning and partnerships permeate everything we do,' Cody says.

'We differentiate ourselves from (Don) Middleberg and (Ken) Makovsky that way.'

PepperCom has also been lucky in that its focus is not entirely in the dot-com arena. The agency has three main client lines: Internet, b-to-b and technology PR. PepperCom's b-to-b clients brought in two-thirds of the firm's dollars 4.5 million PR income last year.

Cody may be hailed for his strategic thinking, but his entree into PR was not exactly an orchestrated event. After a journalism work-study stint at Northeastern University, he became disenchanted with the hack's life.

By happenstance, the father of the woman he was dating at the time introduced him to Bill Durbin, then head of Hill & Knowlton. And the rest, says Cody, is history.

After spending four years at H&K and three at Geltzer & Co., Cody became director of communications at management consulting firm Alexander Proudfoot.

Cody was part of the firm's global expansion team, but the globetrotting spent his energy reserves and, as the father of two young kids, weighed on his conscience. He decided to strike out on his own and started CodyPR in 1990.

A dollars 200,000 operation with three employees and as many accounts, the agency lasted two years before being snapped up by integrated shop Earle Palmer Brown (EPB). Cody says that having a family and running his own agency led him to look for more solid business prospects. Bill Southard, president of EPB PR and Cody's direct supervisor at the time, recalls that EPB was looking for someone to 'get the PR unit off and running.'

Southard says that Cody's knack for finding talented employees and cultivating an entrepreneurial culture allowed the PR department to grow from 'a couple hundred thousand (dollar)' operation to 'a couple million' in two years.

One of the senior stars recruited to EPB was Ed Moed, now Cody's partner at PepperCom. 'He was very witty and charismatic and had an unbelievably dry sense of humor to the point that you needed a glass of water,' Moed says of his first encounter with Cody. The two bonded over the Kaiser & Associates account, and thus began a lifelong business marriage.

Word of Cody's talents started circulating, and Brouillard Communications CEO Jim Foster picked Cody to become his successor and the agency's 'change agent.' Both Cody and Moed, who left EPB together to join Brouillard, say that despite Foster's professed desire to modernize the agency and hand over the reins, he never had any intention of stepping down. 'He put every obstacle in place to prevent me from succeeding,' says Cody.

'It was an autocratic and painful experience. We learned what not to do.'

Cody also learned the rudiments of positioning at Brouillard. But doing PR at an advertising conglomerate eventually became frustrating. Disenchanted with agency life once again, he and Moed realized that they both knew how to motivate people and that there were few agencies that could provide high quality b-to-b service.



Starting over - again

With that realization, Ed Moed started Moed Communications out of his apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and Cody joined him. Ever the brand man, Cody decided to pep up the agency name. He and Moed considered appropriating the name of Moed's apartment building, Andover, but decided that it sounded 'too British and conservative.' As the PepperCom agency lore goes, Cody immortalized his dog, Pepper, and took some liberty in abbreviating communications into 'com' instead of 'comm.'

'If we had been Cody & Moed, we would not have gotten all the calls we did,' Cody says. Their first clients included financial site MoneyTalks, Ernst & Young and VerticalNet. Some say Cody's success is in his promotional know-how. 'Steve has done a masterful job of promoting PepperCom and its successes and the individuals in the company,' Southard says.

Cody and Peppercom have not had it all their own way. After besting a number of global agencies to represent Mastercard last year, the account was lost in 2000 because of what Cody calls 'corporate reshuffling'.

But overall, the spicy formula seems to be working. And what of the new 'parallel company'? With a typically alternative approach, he has promised to house it with people from outside the PR world. Pressed for further details, he says only that it will have its own client base and will open later this year. As for the name, Cody says that he's always wanted to immortalize his other dog - so don't be surprised if the new venture goes by the name of CinnamonCom.



STEVE CODY, Managing partner, PepperCom

1981: AE, Geltzer & Co.

1985: Director of communications, Alexander Proudfoot

1990: CEO, CodyPR

1991: EVP and GM, Earle Palmer Brown

1993: President, Brouillard Communications

1995: Managing partner, PepperCom.



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