Author Archive

A Working Lunch – Something to Chew On

In years past, I would have given a long list of convincing reasons why a “working lunch” equates to a “waste of time” and causes practically zero productivity, along with a high probability of low blood sugar  (especially for the people who do the most talking).

However, I digress, and digest, if you keep the group and the bites small; the conversation focused, you might just be surprised at the results.

Imagine a meeting where there aren’t any phone calls, bosses or other business to distract you. Only a waitress, who, get this, brings you whatever you need. I must warn you, this type of productivity comes at a cost, of course. At around ten dollars per person, which includes the tip, the experience will prove invaluable.

Here are some of my suggestions on how to make a working lunch work:

Stay close – we literally drove across the street to a place we all know and love.

Plan ahead – circulate the menu, encouraging attendees to make their selections before arriving and pre-order if possible.

Prepare an agenda – write a short, concise agenda of what will be covered (and stick to it).

Break it up – discuss a few things, break to eat, continue where you left off (finger foods and appetizers really help too).

Encourage everyone to contribute – this goes hand in hand with the pre-planning and agenda aspect. If the burden and flow of the meeting is shared by all, each person feels like a valuable attendee, thus are encouraged to be prepared, which helps ensure everyone gets to eat.

Make it fun – for those of us in the creative field who get to spend our days brainstorming and dreaming up new ideas, this is easy. For others, it might take some more work.

Designate a secretary – sounds so old fashioned, I realize this, but it’s important for one person to jot down the notes during the meeting and be in charge of distributing them to all attendees once the meeting has adjourned (note: the follow up should be timely to ensure the best outcome).

Leave with a plan – this step goes along with “timely follow up” and “give assignments”. It is essential that all attendees feel as though their time is valuable and the next steps are clearly defined.

Timely follow up – the secretary should compose a document that serves as a summary of the meeting (this should accompany a “Next Steps” document).

Delegate assignments – it is essential to deliver or execute on points made during the meeting or else it really will be nothing more than a waste of time.

Have faith in your employees’ and coworkers’ ability to work outside of the cube or conference room walls. It’s refreshing, and most importantly, productive. Now, get out there and place your order. You’ll be surprised what’s delivered.

Don’t Stop, Look & Listen, Repeat.

Sometimes it’s best not to trust your instincts when it comes to marketing, especially if your views are shortsighted. One sure fired way to go out of business is to act like you already are—by ceasing to communicate to your target via marketing efforts, events, articles, etc.

Let’s say for instance, we instructed you to think and act in the opposite direction of your gut? That is if your gut is telling you to hibernate and come out when you sniff the first hint of blooming business. If you’re a business owner, stop for a moment and think like your customer base. Or it might be more fitting to suggest that you think of the things you would like if you were a loyal, or even wayward customer. As we’ve mentioned in past Free Ad Candy entries, handshakes and handwork are making a comeback during this technically-driven, virtual age. It’s still considered good manners to send a handwritten note to a client. Or forward articles or tidbits of good advice you think they might find useful—like this Free Ad Candy, for example. Don’t worry. Just do something. Improvise. Get creative. Run with scissors. No, of course we’re kidding.

Run, don’t hide—keep your face out there. Both your marketing messages and your actual face. Network. Attend functions. Make calls. Reach out. Spread your word (and do it with joy—start by using terms like “Glee-conomy” instead of “Gloom-onomics”). Peddle your wares. Remind people you’re still doing business—and you’d like to be doing it for them. Maybe even at a discounted price. Maybe you’ll run into someone you can partner with on a project or event—and do a little bit more together instead of doing nothing alone.

Keep your messages moving through the marketplace and more likely than not, you will still have a place in the market. Perhaps your ad spend is smaller—just like some people’s shopping lists—but people are still buying products and engaging in both required and recreational products and services. Stay in their minds so they don’t wander somewhere else, like to your competitors’. Find out what matters most to your consumer and you might just discover a way to become relevant and necessary. If it’s poop you see, find a way to be toilet paper (or a pooper scooper…foreshadowing alert). Or garbage, be a trash bag. Murky waters, become a filtration system.

As business owners and consumers are adjusting, so are the employees, households and schedules. For example, let’s take Leslie, a stay-at-home mother of two small children, whose husband owns a business that he works very hard to keep running better and better. Often working into the late hours creating new opportunities for his shop and staff so they may all stick around during such tough times, Leslie’s husband doesn’t keep a nine-to-five schedule. Similarly, Leslie’s neighbors and friends’ neighbors have also taken to staying late, picking up extra shifts or even part-time jobs. All of this creative energy and busying oneself left something to be desired…for the pets, mail and plants of these uninhabited homes. Suffice it to say, Leslie found a way to capitalize on peoples’ needs during these stressful times by filling their pet sitting needs.

Take a lead from Leslie, adjust your offerings. Or even lower prices. Be flexible in what you’re willing to deliver and how you deliver it. But overall, keep your promises and you will keep your loyal customers. Everyone is making adjustments in an effort to survive—cutting back here, investigating alternatives over there—your business’s marketing, offerings, products and services need to follow suit (or better yet, be the one setting the example). Think about the cell phone—fifteen years ago, not many people had one—but today, everyone has a cell phone, a cell phone charger (for the house, the car, the airport), a cell phone case, clip and docking station, cleaning wipes, ring tones and rhinestones. More so, as the cell phone is a communication mechanism, there’s residual income to be made—be it two-year contracts, rollover minutes, family plans or pay-per-minute use. There are à la carte plans with texting, international calling, email, you name it. How can you go à la carte? Like Newton’s third law of motion, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If someone puts their hand out with a need to be filled, find a way to put something of value in said hand. Chances are they’ll reach out to you again and again. Listen carefully—can you hear your opportunity calling?

Listen what’s not being said. If all you think you’re hearing is doom and gloom, you might find yourself in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophesy. There are many ways to survive and prosper in a recession. Just like in a natural disaster or depression. You need to sharpen your intuition skills—because dumb luck is unlikely. If you started your own business, most likely you have what it takes to write the script of a pilot that can get picked up by the collective network and become a hit. Get out there and find out what the customers need now to survive. Think of an idea with legs—like our pet sitter mentioned above.

Take time to make future plans. Catch up on what’s been set aside for a slow, rainy day. Clean out the closet, recycle an idea, follow up with old customers, adjust your business plan, teach a class or take a class. Once things turn around, you’ll be ready to put your new plan of attack in motion. Write articles, write blogs, get people together for panel discussions or product & service exchanges. Working out a trade agreement can work—for complementary businesses. Keep things moving and business will gravitate toward you—especially if you stay positive. Attitude can play a big part in keeping customers. No one wants to be near the negative energy in any room—particularly if it’s their free will and money we’re talking about.

Repeat your own past effective behaviors, as well as some of the greats who survived bad times—you know, when things were really bad—like when disease, plague, war and famine were real, everyday fears, before global marketplaces, the Internet, free delivery and free will. Somehow we all made it to this point—with lots of advancements in technology, science, medicine, politics and the way we advertise the newfangled things we have to offer. How can you be the next advancement in a way of thinking, doing or buying?

So, to recap, we suggest you stay your own course or find a new one you can tread during such times. Don’t let your marketing efforts go dark overnight, as advertising doesn’t work one day after it hits the marketplace. Adjust both your way of thinking and the wares you offer. Think about what your customers really want and need now—find a way to deliver it—and you’ll still have customers to serve and a business to run. Stay connected, network and keep the lines of communication open with prospective business partners and customers.

Keep forging ahead and blaze new trails. Remember, don’t stop your advertising, public relations and marketing efforts—or you’ll essentially be stepping aside and allowing your competition to play through with your caddy, your clubs and your lucky ball. So, keep playing ball. We will bounce back.

Be Mindful Readers, Part I

Since we can’t be mind readers and inexplicably know what our potential customers are thinking and thereby doing; we can at least be mindful readers and study from afar to get farther – or closer to our end goal.

As the New Year is in full swing and we’re all waiting for the pendulum to swing some other way, which per the usual, we feel compelled to bestow a few words of our collective wisdom upon you. What’s more, we are accompanying our free advice with a recommended reading list. In an effort to keep it short and sweet, if not bittersweet, the requisite list of ten is being culled down to nine in honor of ringing in 2009. Well, maybe there will be a wildcard number ten at the end of the list.

Our list of recommended mindsets, along with the mindful readers list isn’t given in vein, yet in the same vein as fake it ‘til you make it and dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Some may say that this is what got us in this mess to begin with, but in advertising and marketing, it holds valuable truths that are timeless lessons, both personally and professionally.

As we hunker down and maximize our time by minimizing the excessive, why don’t we do it with a book in hand. Even if it’s read on an iPhone or listened to on an iPod, it’s a good old fashioned way to make things closer to “right” by reading.

1. Mind: Emulate the greats and learn from the masters. – Read: Advertising Best Practices 2008-2009: Industry Leaders on Creating Attention-Getting Platforms, Generating Profitable Campaigns, and Preparing for New Media Trends by Aspatore Books Staff.

Advertising Best Practices 2008-2009 is an authoritative, insider’s perspective on the newest trends and best campaign strategies of the past year, as well as the next big thing to prepare for in the year to come. Featuring Presidents and CEOs representing some of the nation s leading advertising agencies, this book provides a broad yet comprehensive overview of how leaders in the industry approach the challenge of developing creative and attention-grabbing campaigns that stand out in today’s barrage of media.

2. Mind: Focus and narrow your message and products and services offered. Determine what your main thing is and pinpoint what really matters. Once you know, others, like your potential customers, will know better what to do. – Read: The Pardox of Choice, why less is more by Barry Schwartz.

As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis. And in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

3.  Mind: Leverage Partnerships to maximize ad spend as budgets decrease. – Read: Guerrilla Marketing: Breakthrough Strategies: Triple Your Sales and Quadruple Your Business In 90 Days With Joint Venture Partnerships by Jay Conrad Levinson and Terry Telford.

How are you going to double, triple, or quadruple your sales in the next 90 days and expand your business exponentially? The secret is with joint venture partnerships. Whether it sounds daunting or oversimplified, the plain truth is, it works. You can take your business to the next level with the power of joint ventures.

4. Mind: Practice fiscal and social accountability and responsibility for a better global marketplace in which you can sustain. – Read: Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business by Joel Makower.

Business leaders searching for a green strategy encounter few roadmaps and established rules and plenty of hidden twists and turns. Strategies for the New Green Economy describes how companies can succeed in the green marketplace, keeping pace with customer and societal demands to reduce their environmental impact.

5. Mind: Be contagious and go viral. Decrease wasted impressions by increasing the use of technology via social networking and actual networking. Type, text, twit and talk your way into the minds and manners of your target. – Read: Secrets of Social Media Marketing: How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Turbo-Charge Your Business! by Paul Gillin.

Secrets of Social Media Marketing is a handbook for marketers and business owners to use in deciding how to employ the new social media for online marketing. Social media has quickly moved from the periphery of marketing into the forefront, but this is a new and quickly-evolving field and there are few established formulas for success.

6. Mind: Experiment with experiential marketing and wash your hands of the type soap box people stand upon and box they claim to be thinking outside of. – Read: Experiential Marketing: A Practical Guide to Interactive Brand Experiences by Shaz Smilansky.

Experiential Marketing looks at the experiential marketing era, which focuses on giving target audiences a brand-relevant customer experience that adds value to their lives. Experiential marketing is made up of live brand experiences – two way communications between consumers and brands, communications which are designed to bring brand personalities to life.

This book demonstrates how experiential marketing fits in with the current marketing climate and how to go about planning, activating and evaluating it for best results. This is essential reading for both advertising and marketing practitioners and marketing students.

7. Mind: Know when to hold ‘em back and know when to fold ‘em in half. It’s imperative to discern the difference between cutting, or folding, budgets and cutting your losses because you’re just not making the cut. – Read: Guerrilla Publicity: Hundreds of Sure-Fire Tactics to Get Maximum Sales for Minimum Dollar: Includes Podcasts, Blogs and Media Training for the Digital Age by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin.

The Internet has not only changed the sheer vastness of services and products available to consumers, but it’s significantly changed the way businesses communicate with their buyers. The good news is that new technology makes it easier for businesses to get the right product to the right customer at the right time–and at a fraction of the cost. Completely updated and revised, this book uses the expertise of today’s top media gurus to show you how to get the word out about your product or business and reach even more buyers–without the cost of a traditional big budget campaign!

8. Mind: Know how to sell. Not just on paper, but to the people who will grant you access to their public. There are certain gatekeepers that must believe you have the right combination to get out there and stay out there. – Read: Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business by Jon Steel.

A professional “pitching coach” for one of the world’s largest marketing conglomerates, Jon Steel shares his secrets and explains how you can create presentations and pitches that win hearts, minds, and new business. He identifies the dos and don’ts and uses real-world examples to prove his points. If you make pitches for new business, this is the perfect book for you.

9. Mind: Swim with agility like a little fish in a big pond that is yours to explore and expand, effectively and efficiently. And deliberately. – Read: Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders by Adam Morgan.

A revised and updated version of the classic book on what it takes for small brands to eat the big tuna. Since Wiley first published Eating the Big Fish in 1999, the concept of the challenger brand has become a mainstream idea among marketers and advertisers. But Adam Morgan’s classic is still the best and most definitive study of the way challenger brands take on and defeat bigger competitors, and this 50,000-copy bestseller has been tremendously influential in the marketing and advertising arenas. For this new edition the author has interviewed 30 fresh challengers, and explores today’s radically different marketing environment.

10. Mind: Get back to the basics with some tried and true triumphs by one of advertising’s greats. Climb your career ladder by leaning on a tree with some of the best advertising roots to ever grow an industry by sharing advice. – Read: Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy.

A candid and indispensable primer on all aspects of advertising from the man Time has called “the most sought after wizard in the business”.

There are so many more thoughts and things to thumb through we’re like to dispense, but that’s what Mindful Readers Part II is for Readers.

Hang Smaller Stockings This Year

As the calendar is down to one page, your book’s ink must be displayed in black, but if not….seeing red can be avoided.

Each year, we try to beat last year’s numbers. And every year, the bar rises, as do the costs of conducting business. So, if you’re short on ribbon, tinsel and garland—what do you do when it comes time to give that quintessential holiday card, keepsake or party that wraps up your company in a neat bow for all your clients, vendors and associates? The answer is, “Get out the construction paper, the paints and give from the heart.” Remind your clients and vendors why they selected to do business with you in the first place. So what if your stockings are a bit shorter or your hand deliveries can be carried in just one hand. The important part is to do something, ignoring the holiday season all together isn’t festive. But more so, it makes you and your business forgetful, forgotten, last year’s news. Now more than ever, you must get in front, even if only virtually, of those you do business.

If the holiday party is really off the list this year, put a little more thought into the other elements of your holiday wrapping. Here are some ideas as what to do for all those business associates on your gift list who in previous years received diamonds, and now might have to wait it out while a lump of coal undergoes it metamorphosis.

Go Virtual

In lieu of labeling and paying postage on hundreds of physical holiday cards, utilize one of the great e-greeting websites and take the time to personalize a message. It will go farther, and so will the planet.

Stop By
For the big clients that need to be remembered during this time of year, prepare a nice, albeit smaller, gift basket with the essential holiday pick-me-ups, complete with a chocolate bar spelling your name. Hand deliver the goodies and tell them how much you appreciate their business. The heartfelt words will go far, even if the gift basket can’t feed the entire office.

Give Back, Together
Take any money you would have or could have thrown a holiday soiree with and donate it to the cause of your choice (obviously, you will advertise this fact in your basic, but requisite holiday greeting card). Or, if there’s a client who adopts a cause each year, jump on the coattails of that. It will show your community outreach effort, without trying to show up last year’s party.

Open Up
Be a drop off location for Toys for Tots, a coat or blanket collection or food bank.

Have a Contest
Offer a holiday special that is A-typical in your industry. If you own a chain of car washes, when not host a giveaway for a satellite radio or car stereo system.

Trade Secrets

Trade out services with a complementary vendor. Or start up a Referral Program with complementary businesses. Both of these “new” service offerings can be advertised in a joint holiday greeting.

Go to Work Somewhere Else

Close the office for an afternoon to volunteer at a local charity. Many offices give a “shopping” day to employees. If employees are tightening the purse strings, why not cut the day all together and roll up the shirt sleeves. Not only will associates save themselves from buying things they shouldn’t, they’ll save humanity.

Spread the Joy
Never forget the Power of the Press Release. If done properly, any or all of the above Holiday Season marketing endeavors can be fodder for press coverage.

It’s never a bad time of year to show appreciation for your clients, vendors and associates. Nor is it ever a bad time to remind them of what products and services you offer. It might serve as a great time to branch out and string the garland over new banisters. Though the ice can seem thin, any marketing effort, if done well, can thicken the bottom line.

Why Letting Your Employees Act Like Children is Good for Business

Let’s start with allowing, and/or strongly suggesting, your employees dress up for Halloween. There are several ways to skin this witch’s cat, for example: let employees decide on their own and hope for the best; give each department a theme (dress up like a work flow process; pair people up who don’t usually work together and tell them they must come as an infamous couple from another time; imitate our best client; embody the client and/or business type you’d like to have; or emulate the member of the Peanuts/Scooby Doo/Simpsons gang you most represent). As you can see, the list goes on and on—as should the false teeth, clown shoes and princess tiara.

Team Building
Like most extra-curricular office activities, allowing employees to dress up for Halloween, is reminiscent of childhood creative play, problem solving and team building exercises. Be it leading a blind-folded fellow associate across a room ridden with obstacles, playing charades, Mad Libs or Jenga, any activity that tears down that first layer of inapproachability and fear of speaking one’s mind, is helpful in drawing associates closer for the greater good—the success of the company. Remember, communication is still key to open dialog, which leads to new ideas, solutions and eventually progress, increased market share and productivity. So, if it turns out that you happen to be deemed a dead ringer for Linus, abscond with your child’s, put that thumb in your mouth and suck it up for a day.

Competition Instilling
While you’re in there tearing down walls of silence and smoking people out of their cubicle silos, why not bust open that piggy bank and invest in a few simple prizes for costume contest winners. When Andy in the art department dresses up head to toe and looks exactly like the Jolly Green Giant because he not-so-secretly wants to work on Green Giant Food Company accounts—throw him a few green backs (after all, he’ll need to buy some pants, ASAP). Or when the accounting department actually pulls off an old-school abacus that would make face-and-belly-painting sports fans proud, the least you could do is give them mini golf or bowling vouchers, free movie passes or a gift card to a local coffee shop. Do you smell that? Oh, no that’s not caramel apples burning—that’s the sweet smell of healthy competition. And you know what? Competition, both internal and external, keeps the lights on a little bit longer, if you catch my drift.

Good Feeling
Speaking of drift, have you ever sauntered into a run-of-the-mill establishment or office setting during a themed holiday and been a bit envious to see it decked out floor to ceiling? Who doesn’t like getting that pink-frosting-covered, heart-shaped cookie from the red-sweater-donning, ensconced in red, white and pink balloons teller at the bank on Valentine’s Day? And you’d be lying if you said that Freddie Krueger look alike who took your dry cleaning didn’t scare you; or the elf receptionist who lead you to your examination room didn’t make you smile. Not only did you like how you felt, but you liked how you felt about the company. On a conscious or subconscious level, your impression of a company who cares enough about its employees, and customers for that matter, to let them have a little fun and spread the holiday cheer is a place either you’d like to work, or an establishment you’d be more likely to do business. I’m not kidding, it’s true.

Cause Supporting
All dressed up and no place to go? That’s okay, they can come to you. Local day care centers, children’s non-profits or other civic organizations are always looking to foster new relationships for out reach programs or field trips. Once you start spreading the specific holiday’s joy around, you might just find you want to open up your heart a bit more. All it takes is a few trips to the dollar store for your requisite decorations, lights and candy to set the mood and take center stage in someone else’s eyes for a moment. Encourage all associates to don their best child-appropriate costume, fill a bowl or Jack-O-Lantern with individually wrapped candies and get ready to dole it out to some darling children who may actually need the sustenance—but hey, you need to feed your soul too! As a final plunge in the bobbing-for-apples bucket, you could also hold a costume contest for the little ones who parade around your shop. Just be sure to buy enough prizes for everyone—and come up with equal amounts of winners as there are children in attendance. After all, you know what it’s like to be surrounded by people who act like or need to be rewarded like children—we all do occasionally.

Do all, or any, of the above and your apple will always give you a penny. And if you happen to get a worm too, go fish.