Archive for March, 2008

"There Will Be Dogs"

IStock_000004462525XSmallWe’re sharing a client with The Advance Guard for the first time and I am psyched to work with C.C. Chapman, whom I met in-person for the first time this week.  (Yes, he’s as warm, smart and genuine as you suspected.)

Catching up prior to our client’s arrival, talking about our respective sales pipelines, current projects, and all that jazz, C.C. and I both noted that not all clients were going to fit well in the Social Media era.  Ideal clients – great products, savvy contacts – are actually kinda’ rare. 

And as PR becomes more transparent, this becomes a risk factor for agencies.  An agency’s brand will be increasingly tied to its clients’.  This was always the case at some level – reputations are built on good work – but, never more so than in today’s broadband, 24/7, Google-monitored world.

So consultants like The Advance Guard, SHIFT, et al., are putting their own reputations on the line as they engage with, and for, their clients.  Brands are intermingling: our individual brands, our company brands, our clients’ brands.  The bigger we get, the more transparent we get, the more likely it becomes that we’ll take a reputational hit due to a client’s SNAFU.

C.C. sagely summed it up:  “There will be dogs.”

It’s a risk we must take.  Except in extreme cases, no service provider I know of can afford to turn away a prospective client.  If the client’s not doing anything illegal or unethical, and they will pay for your counsel and connections (which could actually improve the product) … well, “It may be the future but you still gotta eat.”

P.S. – For the record, the client that C.C. and I are working on is one of the cool ones, thankfully!

5 Questions for Rohit Bhargava

Rohit_bhargavaThe inimitable Rohit Bhargava of the Influential Interactive Marketing Blog is launching his book, PERSONALITY NOT INCLUDED, tomorrow.

In keeping with his inclusive turn of mind, Rohit doesn’t think of this as the launch of a book, so much as the start of a conversation. 

Accordingly, he’s asked us to ask him up-to 5 questions that he promises to answer on Friday.  (Tomorrow will be a long day for Rohit!)

Riffing on his concept, I asked some of the Twitterati to join the fun.  Below are four of the responses (I’ve reserved the 5th question for myself, below.)

So, Rohit?  We have some questions for ya:

Brian briguyblock @TDefren Ask how a company bests selects leaders and idea people to define a company’s archetype?

Ronna Porter Ronna @TDefren Q for Rohit: Multiple personalities are a fact of corporate life – how do you balance them for the sake of corps & customers?

Kyle Flaherty KyleFlaherty @TDefren What signs should an established brand look for to signal they need to shift in order to ‘rediscover their soul’?

Connie Bensen cbensen @TDefren What is the single most important thing you can do to give your brand personality?

These are good questions.  Kyle Flaherty, in particular, raises an interesting quandary:  what signals should a C-suite executive look for, internally, as evidence that the culture is ready to shift towards a new openness?

And, Rohit, here’s question #5: How the heck did you manage to write a book, grow your family, serve as a lecturer at a zillion conferences, deal with clients, blog (of course), and generate almost 500 tweets in just the last few months alone?  What suffers the most, in such flurries of activity?

Social Media Helps Me Help You

IStock_000004907201XSmallTwo experiences in the past 2 days have spurred this post. 

This morning I spent a solid 30 minutes on the My Starbucks Idea site.  I discovered it via Shel Holtz, who reminds us that this is a much-welcomed copy of Dell’s IdeaStorm site.  The concept is to use a Digg-like voting system to let folks proffer and vote on each other’s ideas about how to improve the Starbucks Experience.

I spend a lot of time in Starbucks.  Wherever I go, there they are; the coffee’s consistently good; it’s a convenient place for a quick meeting.  My wife is a regular, too.  I shudder to think how much of our disposable income is devoted to the Seattle giant…

But by the same token, this “investment” motivates me to want to make Starbucks even better. 

As a consumer, I am happy to tell a company “how to get better” if they give me a neat, simple way to do so – and, in particular, if I think there’s a decent chance that “my voice will be heard.” 

IStock_000004839396XSmallThe 2nd experience came during a meeting with a national theater chain.  The get-together was ostensibly about Social Media and PR concepts, but in the course of the conversation I found myself ranting (productively/constructively) about simple things that could be done to improve the basic experience. 

For example, as the parent of teenagers it’s often my job to idle in the car until the movie lets out… if Yahoo Movies says the movie is 110 minutes, I show up ~110 minutes after the show was slated to start – and invariably wind up waiting for 5 – 15 minutes because the stated showtimes & duration don’t account for the previews. 

“Why not find a way to let people know when they’ll actually be exiting the theater?” I asked our hosts. “As a parent, you’ll save me gas, boredom, frustration (and WORRY! – if the kids are let out 15 minutes ‘late,’ I am freaking out).”

This silly suggestion elicited a bemused but grateful “hmmm.”  They even wrote it down!  Victory!

Reflecting on the satisfaction I felt when I saw those pens put to paper; and on the sense of empowerment I experienced at My Starbucks Idea, I was reminded that everyone – everyone! – wears an invisible placard around their neck that reads, “Make Me Feel Important.”

The brands that empower consumers to feel important and impactful are the brands I expect to win in the long-term. 

Beauty of the Brainstorm

IStock_000003660306XSmallAmong the questions I hear all the time is, “Why should we hire an agency, versus handle all communications in-house?” 

This one comes up more often than usual thanks to the rise of the blogosphere.  Smart clients understand that they may need to take a more personal, active role in their communications to the outside world.  While that is true, agencies can facilitate that process (big-time), and anyway, there are also other great reasons to consider outside assistance.

Here’s one of ‘em…

I participated in a brainstorming session the other day, in which a broad cross-section of SHIFT employees were engaged in generating ideas for a prospective client.  In the course of the event, it occured to me just how much value these sessions create. 

First of all, from a purely monetary perspective, a solid 90 minutes’ worth of time was being contributed.  Thinking about the billing rates of all the folks in the room – which ranged from approximately $80 to $250 per hour – we probably spent a couple of thousand dollars, easy.

Now consider the wide range of experiences brought to bear.  Around the same table: freshly-minted college graduates, a.k.a., the Facebookers; media specialists; mid-career executives, battle-scarred but young and vigorous; writers and graphic artists; and of course, the grizzled gray-bearded veteran (sigh – that’d be me).

The Facebookers bring their enthusiasm and “why not??” attitude, as well as special insights into how-to reach their peers.  The media specialists will know which ideas they can “sell” to the mainstream media and blogosphere.  The executives will sense which ideas will play well in the prospect’s mind.  The writers and graphic artists think about whimsical ways to “package” the concepts.  (The grizzled gray-beard brings his brain, pickled in a jar.  He lobs in a decent idea when he can.)

The best part?  NONE of those people know very much about the prospect.  At best, we were able to get 30 minutes’ worth of direct input; we looked at their site, and researched the competitive landscape. 

We know enough to be dangerous.

IStock_000003625482XSmallAnd that’s the “beauty” part.  As outside consultants, we care not a whit for the prospective client’s internal politics or entrenched histories.  We get to create ideas based on a snapshot in time. 

Because the narrative we’ll help craft is ultimately intended for external audiences, we’re well equipped to consider what story we’d tell, based on what we know the rest of the outside world is already thinking.  We’re in the same boat as the rest of the spectators.

We try to bring the same process to the brainstorming sessions we conduct on behalf of existing clients.  We do this every 6 months, for almost every client.  The account team will present their client scenario to a larger group of their peers: “here’s what the client does, here’s how the program’s going; here are the challenges so far.”  With just that little bit of data, we’re off to the races, ginning up brand-new campaign concepts.  The account team on-the-case tend to sigh with gratitude by the end: the fuel tank has been re-filled!

Agencies live and die based on the strength of their ideas.  That creative muscle is excercised each day.  That’s the kind of muscle most companies need, to push them to the next level.

Social Media Engagement Turns Lemons into Lemonade

IStock_000002528716XSmallTry as we might, we just can’t get Gina Trapani at LifeHacker to write about our clients at NEAT Receipts.  Even though she often writes about “getting organized,” we haven’t cracked the code yet.

The latest shut-out came in December of 2007, when Gina asked her readers, “How do you organize your tax receipts?”  Since Gina wanted her readers’ input, it’s arguable that NEAT Receipts “deserved” a mention here, but keep in mind that this was just the latest in a string of defeats…

This time around, we decided to surrender:  Gina clearly didn’t want to hear from the PR crowd.  But, we asked one of our our client contacts to get involved in the Comments section of the December post.  In the comment, our client identified her affiliation and briefly outlined how NEAT Receipts has helped its customers at tax time.

As we monitored for any reaction to our client’s comment, we soon noted a follow-up comment by Justin Martin, a writer for FORTUNE Small Business.  Justin seemed intrigued by the many suggestions of LifeHacker’s readers.  When we called on him, Justin remembered our client’s comment at the LifeHacker blog and readily set-up an appointment with our NEAT Receipts contacts.

Fsb_20080301Result?  Big-time profile of a NEAT Receipts customer in the COVER STORY of the March edition of FORTUNE Small Business.

We’d still love to convince Ms. Trapani to give NEAT Receipts a whirl, of course.  In the meantime, it’s nice to be able to point all of our clients to a prime example of the benefits of enagagement in the blogosphere. 




Show some social media love would ya?





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