PepperMill November 2018

YouTubin’: For Good

Some Broadway musicals age very well!

“Wicked” cleverly tells the story of the witches of Oz before Dorothy arrived to dampen things. It is the only Broadway musical I’ve had the pleasure of seeing twice. The second time, in 2009, was shared with many of my friends here at Pepper Group and a great time was had by all. On October 29, NBC aired “A Very Wicked Halloween: Celebrating 15 Years on Broadway.” This hour-long special reunited Tony Award winners Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, the original Elphaba and Glinda, for a heartwarming tribute to the musical.

As that hour wound down on Monday night, I held out hope that the one song that shone brightest for me would still be performed ... I wasn’t disappointed. “For Good,” the glorious finale where Glinda and Elphaba share the essence of being a good friend, was extremely powerful, enhanced with a group of twenty other actresses who've played the roles of Elphaba and Glinda onstage.

If you’ll take a moment to reminisce about some of your best friends in life, this performance will surely clear out your tear ducts.

Got some YouTube videos of your own you’d like to share? Just send them my way!

Todd Underwood

Tim Likes Hard Work

For the last four years, I’ve been a subscriber to Human Resource Executive magazine. I’ve found it to be profound in its coverage of the impending talent wars, which led to today’s realization of unprecedented strain on employers to land the best and brightest—and keep them for as long as possible.

The October issue features Mike Rowe, who was the opening night keynote for the HR Technology Conference & Exposition. You’ve seen Mike on Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. When he’s not knees-deep in something you don’t want to think about, he’s been a huge advocate for the trades that men and women do without college educations.

He said that there are currently 6.6 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. that don’t require a college degree and, in many cases, pay north of $100,000 per year. And yet we’ve eliminated shop class from so many high schools. Mike’s even started an organization, mikeroweWORKS Foundation, to award scholarships to help students pursue careers in the skilled trades.

High school is where many kids can get the experience of working with their hands. They can feel and appreciate the process that goes into thinking about crafting something. They thirst to learn the math that will allow them to create angles and perfect fits of pieces they made with their own hands. They get to work alongside like-minded peers. They become methodical, creative and skilled.

I had a similar opportunity that I didn’t really plan, but luckily, I fumbled into it in college.

At the time, and just about ever since, society dictated that the path to success was through the university gates. I started as a pre-business major. Spreadsheets, micro and macro economics, amortize this and accounting principles that. While I’m pretty good at calculations, calculus was not my thing.

I took a semester off and worked in a lumber yard for the spring and summer of sophomore year. It was eye-opening! These guys knew how to work. We had big machines to plane and slice wood before it hit the stain shed. We got to drive growling forklifts and break a sweet sweat while piling a bunk of lumber by hand.

While I was pretty sure I still wanted to finish college, it gave me a perspective that I hadn’t experienced before. I liked working with my hands and seeing the result of my labor. The one thing I miss to this day? That fragrant sunrise dew burning off of the fresh-cut cedar. Priceless.

So, the story ends with me going back to school and collecting a bachelor’s degree in communication design. I liked working with my hands and seeing the result of my labor. I had the chance to try that out and it’s served me well, getting the best of both worlds.

Blue- and white-collar jobs are harder and harder to fill across all verticals today. If you need a little insight on how to compete for the best coworkers, while enjoying your craft in a healthy culture of like-minded pros, let us help. The older I get, the more communication becomes the solution. We’ll move people in your direction.

Tim Padgett

Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head.
—Andy Rooney

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Client Spotlight: Ajinomoto Brand Story Book and Capabilities Presentation

The Ajinomoto Group is a global company that has fundamentally changed the way we experience food.

It all began with the discovery of umami, the fifth of the five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter)—also known as the savory component that makes things like soy sauce, aged cheeses and cured meats taste so crave-able and delicious. After that discovery, Ajinomoto launched the world’s first umami seasoning, MSG, and expanded over the next 100 years to sell products and ingredients in over 140 countries worldwide and help consumers eat well and live well. Today, Ajinomoto brings a variety of ingredient solutions to food manufacturers in order to develop great-tasting, nutritious and consumer-pleasing products.

As the company evolved, so did its message, and the need to customize that message in different markets while leveraging the history and heritage of the corporate headquarters in Japan became of the utmost importance. Ajinomoto’s North American affiliate, Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America, Inc., completed a brand exploration exercise in 2018 to address this need and approached Pepper Group for help in bringing the message of their Food Solutions Group to life. We worked together to create a Brand Story Book and a Capabilities Presentation, and the result was deliciously award-winning!

We began with a deep discovery process in which we learned everything we could about Ajinomoto and its objectives. Having worked with a number of food ingredient companies over the years, we were familiar with the market and the target audience of food product developers, which helped us get a jump-start! As a collaborative team, we determined that the new brand communication tools needed to convey Ajinomoto’s position as the experts in taste (Ajinomoto literally means, “essence of taste”) and their commitment to providing food scientists and marketers with solutions, scientific insights and technical support to achieve their goals.

After developing a strategic Creative Brief to guide our work, we developed two creative concepts for the Brand Story Book. The selected concept leveraged a key component from Ajinomoto’s Purpose, which is “to build a bridge between science and taste for people all over the world.” Rather than create a typical brochure, we created a fold-out piece that allowed us to tell the company story on one side, and create a beautiful poster on the other side—so customers and prospects could be walked through the important information about the company and also have an educational piece of art to display in their workspaces.

Once the Brand Story Book was created, we brought the approach forward into the Capabilities Presentation, which allowed us to provide more detailed information about Ajinomoto’s products, services and overall value to food product developers.

These new tools are being used internally to create excitement and alignment around Ajinomoto’s key brand messages, and externally to create opportunities with prospective customers. The Brand Story Book was recently honored with both a Silver Davey Award and a 2018 American Graphic Design Award for excellence in design.

Ajinomoto’s story is rich and complex—a story that’s important for its audiences to understand. Pepper Group excels at communicating these types of stories in creative, compelling and effective ways. Are you struggling to tell your brand’s story? We can help—let’s talk!

“The amount of dedication and care to all elements of our intended message is what ultimately drove such a strong graphic result. The Pepper Group was dedicated to understanding our business from the inside out in order to provide us a creative direction that fit our brand personality. They translated the vision I had for this project with precision and a unique ‘out of the box’ creative approach that sets their marketing apart from their competitors.”

–Nicole Warren, PR & Marketing Supervisor,
Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America, Inc.

Jessie Atchison


Five Great Employee Volunteering Ideas for Your Team

According to Gallup, engaged workgroups have been proven to be 16% more profitable. They’re happier too. Who doesn’t want that?

There are many components to increasing engagement, but we’ve found that employee volunteering is one of the highest-impact, lowest-cost efforts you can undertake. 

Why employee volunteering? In Cone’s recent survey, 76% of employees said they want their company to provide information about volunteer opportunities outside of work. 74% say volunteering improves their job satisfaction. Deloitte’s recent survey identified that 92% of recent graduates say that social impact is a priority when choosing an employer. And finally, employees who participate in volunteering activities with their fellow employees are 2X more likely to rate their company culture as “very positive” than those who don’t (56% vs. 28%).

It’s why we created Teer1. Teer1 is a software platform that makes employee volunteering easier, more fun and more effective, and it creates a self-perpetuating program where employees can find and sign up for events, collaborate and celebrate successes, and share their own personal volunteering activities. It’s designed to deliver maximum impact with minimal time and resources required.

If you haven’t heard of Teer1, give us a call. To whet your appetite, here are five event ideas that make for a great team outing in the Chicagoland Area:

1. Feed My Starving Children
Help turn hunger into hope with your own two hands by packing nutritious meals for hungry children around the world. Feed My Starving Children can accommodate any size group, up to 190 volunteers in Schaumburg. The organization does a great job of making the activity both fun and rewarding and has three locations in the Chicagoland area: Schaumburg, Aurora and Libertyville. Visit to schedule your team’s outing.

2. Forest Preserves of Cook County
Make a noticeable difference by removing invasive brush or harvesting native seed in season. Learn about different ecosystems and what makes them healthy first hand. Or, you can help remove litter at a grove, trail or shoreline and inspire others to care about clean open spaces. Visit to schedule your event.

3. Greater Chicago Food Depository
Groups of up to 30 people are welcome to volunteer in the warehouse. Tasks include repacking fresh produce and bulk food for distribution, sorting and labeling products, and assembling boxes of assorted food. In addition, you can schedule meeting spaces and enjoy catering by Chicago’s Community Kitchens, a culinary workforce development program. Visit to learn more.

4. Vitalant Blood Donations
Inspiring your team and others to give blood by hosting a blood drive is a rewarding way to benefit your community. It’s also an opportunity to give your organization’s members a chance to share in the wonder of transforming the lives of others. You can host a blood drive with a minimum of 30 people who are committed to participate. Alternatively, you can make it an on-your-own type event where people individually, or in small groups, schedule their donation time at any one of 127 Nationwide donation centers. Visit to learn more.

5. Bernie’s Book Bank
Bernie’s Book Bank sources, processes and distributes quality children’s books to significantly increase book ownership among at-risk infants, toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland. They are able to accommodate groups of up to 125 people for 2-hour sessions of  sorting, stickering and packing quality books during a fun and not physically taxing event. To learn more and schedule an event, visit

If you’re interested in finding out about how to leverage the power of the Teer1 platform to help you organize excellent events that will create powerful results for your employees, your community and your business, let us know!

George Couris

When an Email Clicks

The average office worker gets 121 emails every day and sends out 40.

That’s a lot of words, a lot of wasted inbox space and, probably, a lot of deleted and never-read emails.

But emails are a critical part of the sales process. According to WordStream, email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind colleague recommendations and industry thought leaders. 73% of millennials identify email as their preferred means of business communication (according to Procurious).

One of our challenges at Pepper Group is creating emails that are opened and read, and with all the email clutter, this means knowing a thing or two about emails. For example, what’s the best time to send an email? According to HubSpot, emails received at 11:00am receive the highest clickthrough rate. Or should that email be sent at night? 58% of all adults wake up and immediately check their email, according to eZanga.

What’s the most important part of writing an email? If you guessed “the subject line,” then you're right. Per Invesp, 47% of email recipients open email based on the subject line and 69% of email recipients report email as spam based solely on that subject line.

The ideal length of that line? Between 45-55 characters.

And what about A/B testing (according to LeadGenius, A/B testing your subject line can increase open rates by 49%.)? Or adding links to outside pages from the email text (you need at least two links per email, according to a webinar we recently viewed at

Knowing what makes a great email takes a bit of science, a lot of know-how, and an artistic touch. All of which we’re pretty good at. After all, if you’re reading this PepperMill newsletter there is a good chance you clicked here from an email.

Allan Woodrow