Nov 27

Robb High’s half right

I enjoy Marketing Consultant Robb High’s regular missives on business development. Robb’s been in thePresentation
trenches, speaks from experience and draws upon the results of a recent CMO survey to prove his points.

That said, I think Robb’s most recent mailing misses the mark. High believes that most prospective clients have no interest whatsoever in learning about agencies and their capabilities in a first-round pitch. Instead, he says, they want to talk about themselves. Period.

He suggests preparing 30 or more questions and using the allotted time to have the prospect talk solely about themselves and their needs. Robb suggests not spending any time at all on the who, what, when, where or why of the agency. And, counsels High, if the prospect says, ‘…thanks…but you didn’t talk about your agency,’ he recommends the following response: ‘If the last hour of talking together doesn’t make you feel like we should go to the next step of the review, I can’t imagine what we could tell you about our agency that would change that.’

I think Robb’s half right. Countless statistics prove that prospects feel a meeting has gone well if they’ve spoken 50 percent or more of the time. So, having a prepared list of questions in your hip pocket is very smart. But, you don’t want it to be one way.

Continue reading

Oct 24

New business is about them, not us

Four of us are sitting in the reception area of a new business prospect’s headquarters. We’re one of fourBored_2
agencies to be invited to present today and, as you might expect, we’re filled with nervous excitement.

Deb’s rehearsing her lines. Marya is wondering what questions we’ll be asked and Caryn’s re-reading background information.

While we’re all focused on what we want to say and how, we’re also mindful of what really makes the difference in new business. Despite this being a combination credentials/creative ideas pitch, the prospect really doesn’t want to hear that much about us.

As Millie Olson of Amazon Advertising says, ‘Forget about credentials presentations.’ Prospects really don’t want to know arcane facts and figures about your firm or its work.

Instead, prospects want to tell you about their pain. They want you to know what’s keeping them up at night. They want to know how you’ve solved similar challenges and, critically, how you’d partner with them to solve their issues.

The more prospects talk, the more likely you’ll be hired. It sounds simple. But, many of us forget to ask questions and listen to the answers. Instead, we rush pell-mell through our slides. And lose the opportunity as a result.

How will today go? It’s hard to say. But, we’ll be sure to stop and ask questions as we go. Because it’s about them, not us.

Oct 10

The tale of the magic wristband

Long ago and far away there existed a mighty financial institution whose leaders decided to takeMortgage_2
advantage of something called subprime mortgages. They saw an opportunity to make millions and millions in new fees by offering ridiculous mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them. Even worse, the intricacies of subprime mortgages escaped the unsuspecting borrowers who chose instead to be bedazzled by the prospects of owning their dream house.

Well, the housing bubble burst and many of the poor homeowners lost their houses, their savings and, in some cases, their futures. And, the big financial institution was pilloried in the press as being the bad guys who had lured unsuspecting consumers into the mess with aggressive marketing and pricing.

All the bad publicity hurt the big company. Its stock plummeted, its CEO was attacked in countless interviews and 12,000 employees were laid off.

This made the company’s executives angry. So, they hired a big PR firm and announced an aggressive internal and external campaign aimed at ‘taking the offense.’ It was a real beauty.

Continue reading

Sep 12

When the back-end is as important as the front

I can remember walking into a restroom many years ago and seeing my entrepreneurial boss bendingGarbage
down to pick up paper towels. He not only scooped them up, but also used them to mop up the sink and clean the mirrors. I was stunned.

He spotted me staring at him and sniffed, “Clients and prospects use this men’s room. If they think we don’t care about little details like this, they’ll think we won’t care about the little details of their business either.” I laughed at the time, but I’m not laughing now. Especially when I see the condition of some men’s rooms, ours included.

My boss was a successful businessman whose firm was eventually acquired after a 25-year run. What separated him from most was an understanding that an organization’s image and reputation is impacted by every aspect of the ‘customer’ experience. As a result, he not only fussed over client service, but also the maintenance of everything from the front-end reception area to the, well, back-end restroom. And, he never became too busy or too successful to pay attention to the details.

I’d like to think I’m somewhat the same way. That’s why, if you timed it right, you’d see me picking up newspapers, paper towels and other flotsam and jetsam in the Peppercom restroom. It all matters in the image and reputation wars.

Jul 26

A day in the life

The following is a guest blog by Sophie Hanson, AE, Peppercom London

Hanging out in the poolside sauna yesterday I thought I definitely had the best deal from my job swap with the CEO of Peppercom, Steve Cody.

Last time I saw him he was holed up at my desk knee deep in news searches and press releases in his role as "Sophie, Account Executive for the day."

After some laps of the pool, sitting in the steam room I got to thinking about where you could go with the whole job swap premise. Imagine swapping with your client for the day and having them come into your office. As much as we try to make every client feel most important, the reality there’s a responsibility juggling act going on behind the scenes.

If you flip over from client side to agency side as I have, it’s an eye-opening switch. Working for a large media owner I had incredible expectations of what our agencies should be doing for us, whether PR, advertising or other marketing brethren. Demanding would be an understatement yet they always delivered with a smile. It could have been the steam making me light headed but I was suddenly hit by the realization that yes, I probably was the client from hell.

As a client I’m not sure one ever fully appreciates the art of account handling, but now I realize that the ability to remain positive, enthusiastic and "can-do" even when faced with the most demanding of clients is a skill that can be learned and improved on.

Making the switch to agency side is almost like learning a new language, we don’t just get hits, we "secure" coverage. I’m acutely aware of the need to reinforce pro-activity and have learnt to transfer my client side outlook to the other side. That said, the insight remains unbeatable.

So here’s the thing, I dare a client to spend even just a morning job swapping with an agency contact and prepare to be amazed at how much time we spend working on accounts, and the little things you don’t see us do that deliver such quality work. And similarly, if PROs spent a day in their clients’ office they would soon learn what makes them tick.

As for being CEO for the day, I was surprised that down time wasn’t nearly as relaxing as I imagined, as I constantly wondered how things were going back at the office. Having someone else come do your job is a reality check, it’s easy to get preoccupied with shuttling from one task to another and forget to take a step back to enjoy the fun and creative aspects of the job. Ultimately I learned that all you really need is a blackberry, a phone, self confidence, good team spirit and you can dive right into anything and achieve results from anywhere in the world.

Today I’m back to being Sophie, Account Executive, but as my last CEO task and in true Steve Cody style, I write this guest blog from the train en route to the office.

May 11

Someone here needs to take a bullet

I once worked for a woman whose favorite expression in times of crisis was, ‘Someone here needs to take a bullet.’ And, sure enough, she and her lieutenants would decide which staff member would fall on his or her sword, accept blame for the latest client servicing debacle and, in effect, take a bullet. Neeleman_3

Yesterday, Bill Neeleman took a bullet for JetBlue’s ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre.’ The image-tarnished airline’s founder and CEO was forced to step down by the board. It was a good move since Neeleman is so closely associated with the company’s horrific anticipation of, and response to, a nasty Winter storm that crippled his carrier’s service and wreaked havoc on tens of thousands of passengers.

Switching the top dog of a damaged organization, though, is usually nothing more than a superficial gesture. And, in this case, Neeleman is really just being kicked upstairs to a chairman’s job.

I’m convinced that JetBlue will never win back its lost customers or its once-stellar reputation. At the time I first made that statement, many pushed back and said I was wrong. But, in my mind, JetBlue has become a generic term in the crisis communications dictionary that paints an immediate visual image of tired, angry passengers stuck on planes for nine hours or more while an inept airline management struggles to figure out what to do. Sadly, no amount of advertising or viral marketing will ever overcome that image. JetBlue has become the Enron of airlines. And, yesterday, Bill Neeleman took a bullet for the screw-up.

Don’t be surprised if new CEO Dave Barger’s first move is a name change. Americans will never forgive JetBlue, but so many of our fellow citizens are out-of-touch and unmindful of current events that a name change might be just the ticket for JetBlue to escape its current turbulence, find some smoother airspace and, perhaps, enable Dave Barger to avoid a future bullet aimed in his direction.

Jan 25

Understanding the business of a prospect’s business

A survey of 209 business-to-business marketers by BtoB Magazine confirmed what most of us already knew anyway: when it comes to selecting a new agency, nearly two-thirds said demonstrating an understanding of the business/sector was their number one criterion. That was followed by chemistry (a surprisingly low 17.9 percent), creative and pricing.

The big ‘ah ha’ for the BtoB editorial staff was the relative unimportance of creative in a prospect’s decision-making process. They quoted several client-side spokespeople who said creative is important, but not the be-all and end-all of a pitch.

Having led and been involved in countless pitches over the years, I’ve seen different takes on creative’s role in decision-making. Several Fortune 500 companies have hired us simply for our creative ideas and, in fact, went out of their way to say that industry experience and knowledge of their business was not only unimportant, but a detriment since they were tired of the "same old, same old."

On the other hand, we’ve lost pitches because we presented too many, pie-in-the-sky ideas that didn’t tie together or resonant with the prospect’s short-term needs.

The big survey surprise for me was the low ranking of chemistry. In my opinion, chemistry shares equal billing with "understanding a prospect’s business." And, it definitely trumps every other consideration. Sure, industry expertise, creative and other factors are key, but clients want to work with a team they like, respect and sense will be "fun" to work with. At least, I know I would if I were in the prospect’s shoes.

New business presentations are like first dates. You certainly want to look and sound your best, but you also want to listen and empathize. In fact, we believe the more a prospect talks in a new business presentation, the better chance we’ll have (we call it the 51 percent solution). That said, once the relationship begins, results (or lack thereof) will trump chemistry every time.

So, for what it’s worth, I’d counsel agencies to study the BtoB survey, but not overreact to it. You might win the "understanding" battle, but end up losing the "chemistry" war.

Aug 21

The danger of putting too many eggs in one basket

A 32-year-old relationship between Wal-Mart and Missouri advertising agency Berstein-Rein officially came to an end a few weeks ago (the account had been up for review since May). According to Ad Age (subscription required), the partnership that had begun with a handshake between Sam Walton and Steve Bernstein, ended with a phone call from Wal-Mart’s corporate communications department.

The catalyst for the change was John Fleming, Wal-Mart’s new chief marketing officer. As is the case so often nowadays, the new guy wanted his own agency, and had no real regard for the legacy or heritage of what had gone before.

So, now, Bernstein-Rein is left holding the bag, and will have to scramble to figure out ways to replace more than 30 percent of its total billings. Beyond the financial challenges, the KC shop also has a significant image problem to overcome since, according to industry observers, it’s always been seen as "Wal-Mart’s agency." Now that that "halo" is gone, the firm must quickly figure out how to re-position itself in a brutally tough competitive environment.

To its credit, Bernstein-Rein is saying all the right things about its now being unencumbered and unfettered, and able to pursue new clients in a wide range of categories previously restricted by the Wal-Mart relationship. But, how long can it go without dramatic cutbacks and downsizing? And, will prospective clients see it as a smart, strategic solution or as just "Wal-Mart’s old agency?" Time will tell.

Bernstein-Rein made a pact with the devil when it agreed to place so many eggs in one basket. While an 800-pound client can be a great thing to help build the image and reputation of a nascent firm, it can also inhibit growth, creativity and morale.

We’ve been down the "too many eggs" road on more than one occasion (and paid dearly each time the 800-pound gorilla moved on):

1) In our very early days, we represented Alexander & Alexander, a large business insurance firm that accounted for a sizable chunk of our billings. I’ll never forget the client call telling us they were about to be acquired by Aon. Happily, we found another large client, Ernst & Young, to fill the void.

2) E&Y was the client who first put us on the national PR scene. We began with a small project and, soon, they were accounting for 40 percent or more of our billings. As people came and went on the client side, however, our situation became more and more precarious, and finally ended. The simultaneous dotcom explosion, however, enabled us to replace the billings almost immediately.

3) Next came GE and the "imagination at work" campaign. Once again, a single client accounted for more than a third of our billings. And, once again, the client’s needs and wants changed, and we were out the door.

4) More recently, Tyco brought us on board, promising to not only be our biggest client, but to also provide billings in excess of $10 million annually (pretty heady stuff for an $8 million agency). The account started well and soon represented a third or more of our billings. But the CMO left, and so did the billings.

Today, we have a much more balanced account structure and can more easily absorb the loss of a large client. But, I have to admit feeling a chill going up and down my spine as I read the Wal-Mart/Bernstein-Rein reports. Here’s hoping "Wal-Mart’s agency" can quickly re-position itself and attract significant billings. It would be a shame to see the actions of one man, the new Wal-Mart CMO, cause the demise of a long-standing Midwestern advertising tradition.

Jun 08

Major League Baseball should spotlight a bright, young star like Lastings Milledge, not wrist-slap him

In the wake of the Jason Grimsley revelations that many ballplayers are now injecting undetectable human growth hormone to enhance their performance, it’s startling to see the NY Mets chastise rookie phenom, Lastings Milledge, for his post home run celebration the other night.

For those of you who may have missed it, Milledge hit a dramatic ninth inning home run to send the Mets into extra innings against the Giants (and their hated steroid king, Barry Bonds). As he was taking the field after his first MLB home run, the rookie walked along the right field stands and gave "high-five’s" to one fan after another. It was a great, and genuine, gesture on the part of Milledge to thank the fans for their ovation.

So, what do the Mets do? They tell him in no uncertain terms that such displays are unprofessional, and issued an immediate cease and desist order.

Talk about a bad move. Milledge is exactly what baseball needs right now. With the sport in total denial and taking little, if any, action to question or asterisk the suspicious records being set, they should at least be shining the spotlight on bright, young stars like Lastings. Instead, they curtail his post homerun celebrations and tell him to act more professionally.

I still think MLB needs to step up to the plate and launch a massive grass roots education campaign to educate kids about the dangers of steroids and human growth hormones. Baseball’s hierarchy should insist that, if they want to be considered for Hall of Fame inclusion, players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and good ol’ Barry need to go out on the hustings, admit that they took illegal drugs and plead with the kids not to follow suit. Last, and not least, MLB should asterisk any and all records from 1998 on. That’s approximately the time frame when the big boppers began their doping. And, pitchers shouldn’t be excluded. Does anyone think Roger Clemens and Curt Shilling would still be throwing 98 mph fastballs without a little help from their pharmaceutical friends?

So, here’s a tip of the hat to Lastings Milledge and his demonstrations of pure, youthful delight. Let’s encourage him and his type to bring the joy back to baseball while we discourage Grimsley and his ilk from their ilegal actions. Maybe if more fans speak out, someone at MLB headquarters will finally hitch up his trousers and do the right thing.

Hat tip to Isaac Farbowitz for this.

Nov 30

Have you never been Mellow?

Gina Kolata’s NY Times article today about rude and indifferent physicians certainly rings true with most of us.

Alongside those crack troops at the Division of Motor Vehicles, I cannot think of another group of professionals who care less about customer service. Long waits, callous or rude attitudes and a total lack of concern on the part of most docs has punctuated many of my visits over the years.

Which is why Dr. Ellen Mellow is such an exception to the rule. Since being referred to this NYC-based internal medicine specialist, I never cease to be amazed at the time and care she provides. Dr. Mellow knows exactly what my past history is, and goes above and beyond to discuss different approaches to solving whatever ails me at the moment. She also takes the time to ask about people I’ve referred to her, wanting to know how they’re faring, etc.

Compare that, if you will, with the statistic in Kolata’s article stating that most patients have 18 seconds to talk about their worries, questions, etc., before their doc will cut them off and move on to the next patient.

Sadly, with too many patients and too few docs, there isn’t much incentive for doctors to start behaving better. But there may be relief in sight. In California, eight major health insurers have a new program in which they divide $30 million among 35,000 physicians depending upon how their patients rate them. Hopefully, that will get their attention.

As for Dr. Mellow, if she was incentivized based upon her patient caring, she’d be living in the same ultra upscale neighborhoods as T.O. and some of those other pampered sports superstars.