Public Relations Tactics

Climbing Up the Leadership Ladder With Steve Cody

March 3, 2017

It feels like I’ve known Steve Cody, co-founder and co-CEO of integrated communications agency Peppercomm, forever. He’s celebrated for ice, rock and alpine climbing around the globe, for requiring staffers to attend stand-up comedy training and for speaking with outspoken honesty.

What is our profession’s leadership gap?

The gap is wider than the Grand Canyon. The “leadership,” if you will, is limited to the CEOs of global holding companies, a few top midsized firms and the CCOs of Fortune 500 companies. That leaves about 2,000 small agencies completely out of the discussion or helping to frame the future. Without the voice of the little guys, we really don’t have a representative leadership cohort.

What should we do to fill that gap and create truly effective leaders?

We need to blow up the existing system and figure out better models for preparing the CCO or agency leadership of tomorrow. This includes training him or her on ALL aspects of marketing communications and stakeholder engagement. We’re too quick to abdicate the storytelling role to our peers in marketing. That has to stop. We should be the ones developing the overarching strategy, key messaging, etc., and then passing it along to marketing. The latter are still caught up in selling features rather than benefits.

If asked, how would your team rank you as a leader? 

They’d say I’m a two on a scale of one to 10.

What do they see as your leadership strengths?

Setting the strategic direction of the agency and building and maintaining relationships with the actual leaders of the PR world. I am also churning out more content than the rest of the agency combined (Most of said content is highly mediocre.) 

In which areas do they want you to improve?

Where do I begin? Every area? I think they would like to see me share more of what I know with them. I try my best to do so by constantly sharing my content on our internal channels. In addition, I do my best to lead training sessions that I think they would benefit from. I have also begun a lunch-and-learn session for junior and middle-level employees with CCOs and CMOs of Fortune 500 companies. For many of them, it is their first opportunity to ask any question under the sun of these top executives.

You and Ed Moed lead Peppercomm. How does having co-leaders, with different styles, benefit the agency? 

The beauty of our working relationship is that we’re akin to Jack and Bobby Kennedy (I would be Jack). We confide in one another when we hit the lowest lows or the highest highs. I have tremendous respect for individuals who created their agencies from nothing and continue to run their organizations as a one-person act. But I need Ed and he needs me, and the agency benefits from our talking through the best course of action in good times and bad. And, I’m better looking than he is.
Does it ever drive Peppercommers nuts?

Every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every year.

What were your biggest leadership failures or faux pas?

Not realizing the impact my blog can have on the larger world. I’ve learned the hard way that readers take my content creation seriously and have amended my style accordingly. I also took my eye off the ball of several large accounts in our early days and losing that business cost us dearly. 

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


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