Dec 16

What sets you apart?

85658802 I typically find myself immersed in at least one strategic client positioning each and every month. And, without exception, the CEO or lead executive will say her people are what separates the organization from its competition. They'll say such things as:

– “Our people are totally client focused.”
– “We have deeper sector knowledge than anyone else.”
Or, my personal favorite…
– “Our people are smarter.”

People are an asset but, almost without fail, they are NOT what sets an organization apart from its competition.

6a00d8341c39e853ef0148c67db778970c-800wiIn her most excellent new book, 'The Art of Managing Professional Services,' Maureen Broderick  defines positioning as: “The FOUNDATION of a successful brand. It flows from all other elements of a firm's management: shared vision, values and culture. A focused positioning attracts both top talent and steadily builds a distinct brand.” I'd add two other points: a positioning MUST succinctly describe the unique end user benefit your organization ALONE can provide. And, it MUST ring true.

Here are three examples of what I consider three memorable positionings (all created by a certain strategic communications firm with which you may be familiar):

– “Disrupt your own organization before your competitors do it for you.” (for a strategy firm that helped clients figure out how to re-create their service offerings)

– “At the crossroads of the spiritual and the secular” (for a church that was equally adept at providing spiritual guidance and networking events for Wall Street executives)

– “What sets us apart from our competition is helping set clients apart from theirs.” (for a nascent PR firm run out of a squalid, one-bedroom apartment)

Every now and then, people CAN drive a firm's strategic positioning. Broderick points to law firm Skadden Arps, whose motto is, “Walking through walls for clients.” Skadden, and Skadden alone, commits to a 24-hour call return policy. Employees will not go home until every piece of client business for the day has been completed. The firm insists upon it and clients hire them for that almost maniacal commitment. They do, in fact, walk through walls for clients. That's an end user benefit and it rings true. 

Mostly, though, we run into clients who want their funky work environment to drive their positioning. Others insist upon hyping their past credentials as a differentiator, (i.e. “Our CEO is a builder of businesses.” Gee whiz.).

The single best way to arrive at a strategic positioning is to interview key internal and external constituents and ask them the same question: “What does The Befuddled Group, and the Befuddled Group alone, do best?” Qualify that answer, make sure some competitor, (e.g. Perplexed & Perplexed, Ltd.) hasn't already claimed the strategic positioning and you're off to the races. But, remember, it's a distinct end user benefit, and not the people, that set an organization apart.

Dec 08

An old dog can indeed learn new tricks

I'm a big believer in lifelong learning. In fact, along with my exercise regime, I believe it's what    keeps me young (and has many people believing I'm Ed's little brother.)

Marmar_dog_reading_the_book_1ddvkhshi51wvzE9LivL Maureen Broderick's new book, “The Art of Managing a  Professional Services Firm” is a great example of the impact lifelong learning can have on an old salt like this blogger. One might think that after a millennium of working in public relations, I know all there is to know about running a professional services firm. But, One would be wrong. So, very, very wrong. (So, shape up, One!)

Broderick's book* has opened my eyes to any number of new strategies, policies and procedures that I think will benefit Peppercom (and, any professional services firm for that matter). Here are just three:

– Several advertising agencies have created formal onboarding programs for new clients. One boasts a highly structured, seven-part discussion document that introduces the nascent client to the agency team, its work policies and procedures and reporting structures. Written program outcomes are also put in writing by both parties during the onboarding meeting. (Note: This process is repeated WHENEVER there is a staffing change on the client side, thereby lessening the chance a new sheriff will make an immediate agency change. That's so simple, but SO smart.)
– A top engineering firm manages its client portfolio by categorizing accounts in four ways: strategic (these are the largest, most profitable clients,) core (these are the most loyal ones,) emerging (accounts with the greatest growth potential) and opportunistic (one-off projects.) The firm uses a chart containing this information to drive their growth and staffing discussions and decisions. Again, elementary, but wicked smart.
– An integrated marketing firm has created a five-question e-mail evaluation form that is automatically sent to each and every client on a quarterly basis. Any score that comes back with a 'satisfactory' or lower rating is immediately forwarded to a member of the senior management team. One of them will then pick up the phone and call the client asking for a meeting to address and fix the issues. It's turned out to be a superb early warning system that's saved countless relationships. As one of my old dotcom clients used to say, “It's an elegant solution.”

There are scores of other tips and best practices, but you'll have to read the book yourself. I may be a lifelong learner, but, I'm a selfish, self-centered one who only thinks about making my own firm the very best it can be. That said, I can guarantee adopting one or more of Broderick's principles will improve your firm's image and reputation with all constituent audiences. And as The Who put it, “I call that a bargain. The best I ever had."

*click to order: AmazonBarnes and Noble.

Dec 07

What do professional services firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte and Peppercom have in common?

Firms ranging from Korn Ferry and Egon Zehnder to Hewitt and KPMG all have something in 51wvzE9LivL common. So, too, do Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte and, yes, Peppercom. What is it, you ask? Well, it turns out we're all featured in a brand new book entitled, “The Art of Managing Professional Services” by Maureen Broderick (disclosure: we're helping to publicize the book).

Broderick's tome is a veritable treasure trove of war stories from leaders of the very best run firms in the world.

In the book you'll learn the common characteristics of successful firms, how to make values stick, mastering the client management lifestyle (my kingdom for a clue as to how best to do that) and the ways in which top firms plan and budget.

There's a case study on how Korn/Ferry changed its culture on the fly. Another one focuses on Ogilvy PR's global growth strategy (bring it on, Ogilvy). And, there's a fascinating section all about two simultaneous mega-crises that shook KPMG to its very roots.

“The Art of Managing Professional Services” should be on the reading list of any public relations firm owner or executive, as well as anyone who aspires to one day lead an Edelman, Makovsky or Golin Harris. Truth be told, I wish I'd read the book when Ed and I first opened shop in his squalid, one bedroom apartment. I would have avoided many mistakes.

Author Maureen Broderick's insights were gleaned from in-depth interviews of more than 130 leaders. I can state that reading it has made me smarter and more attuned to 'what's next' and 'what could be.'  And, for any leader, regardless of the sector in which he toils, that's huge.

Now, if only Ms. Broderick could author a book entitled, “The Art of Managing the U.S. Government.” Oh well, such is the stuff of dreams.