May 20

Comedy as a competitive advantage

I once worked for a guy who liked to say, 'Business is just like war and every day is a new battle.' A little depressing to say the least, but not altogether untrue.

May 20 - jerry I often think of his quote as we, like every other business entity, struggle to figure out new and strategic revenue streams. Happily, and I do mean happily, we've stumbled across a real beaut of a new service offering.

We've added stand-up comedy training workshops to our existing Peppercom State management development offerings (and are about to offer a packaged version for clients and prospects). We work with Clayton Fletcher, my personal comedy coach, and typically hold 90 minute to three hour sessions. We've done them for every level of the organization. And, each session has been better than its predecessor.

We talk about the four different types of comedy, the importance of laughter to business and explain how comedy can be leveraged as a distinct competitive advantage (i.e. When all things are equal, prospective clients will choose the firm they liked the most). Each and every one of our employees 'performs' for three or four minutes (except for one employee, who ended up doing her own one-hour special).

Each and every session produces a 'star.' We always find someone who, unexpectedly, totally rocks the audience. That, in turn, helps management decide who might work well as part of an upcoming pitch team. The sessions are amazing bonding exercises. Everyone pulls for one another and laughs at one another's jokes. And, certain performances become instant agency lore (i.e. One person's fear of birds, another's kayaking adventures and a third's issues with restroom design).

Comedy is now a strategic weapon at Peppercom. Ad Age thought enough of it to assign a reporter to participate in one of our sessions and tell her tale. And, now we're about to offer a workshop for clients that will be led by Clayton and include all of the learnings and refinements we've added along the way (each presentation is videotaped, for example, and individual critiques provided after the fact).

As a performing comedian myself, I know how much comedy has helped me in business. At a time when every organization is looking to improve internal morale while sealing more external deals, comedy can play a decisive role in winning tomorrow's battle. It isn't right for every organization (especially those that manage by fear or take themselves too seriously). But, if the stars are properly aligned, comedy will make a major impact on your company's success.

Jul 02

Let’s go, on with the show!

I must admit to loving Consultant Robb High’s lengthy list of agency marketing mistakes. His latestSpeech
missive homes in on the need for strong agency ‘performers’ in new business pitches.

Robb writes, and I agree, that 90 percent of all new business decisions come down to chemistry. You either ‘connect’ with the prospect or, as Peppercom’s Deb Brown likes to say, ‘…pack up your tent and go home.’

High suggests that top agency pitch people should enroll in acting classes to improve their skills. He’s absolutely right. Having taken two Upright Citizens Brigade improvisation workshops and a week long American Comedy Institute course, I can tell you the training makes a huge, if subtle, difference.

Improv teaches one to react spontaneously to word and phrase prompts and work as a team to help one another construct a skit. Stand-up comedy trains one in pacing, eye contact, reading non-verbals and interacting with hostile or passive audiences (give me a hostile audience anytime, btw. There’s nothing worse than staring at a roomful of blank stares).

All that said, I do disagree with High’s assertion that only the ‘A’ team should attend new business pitches. Such a strategy leads to the classic big agency bait-and-switch complaint we hear so often from disgruntled prospects (i.e. ‘We were pitched by the stars, but ended up getting 22-year-old juniors working on our business.’). The far better course of action is to enroll agency fast trackers in acting, improv and comedy classes.

The deeper the talent pool, the more flexibility senior management has in selecting the best pitch team. And, who knows, maybe there’s a budding Marlon Brando or Eva Marie Saint somewhere within your agency. All they (and you) need is to recognize the enormous personal, professional and organizational benefits of acting classes. Now then, has anyone seen my make-up case?

Dec 18

Playing in the big leagues

I played in the big leagues last night. It was my first time and I hope it won’t turn out to be just a ‘quickLaughfactory_logo_2
cup of coffee’ as long-term minor league baseball players call their brief stints in the ‘bigs.’

You see, I performed 15 minutes of stand-up at the Laugh Factory. And, while I’ve probably done 25 previous gigs at other venues, this was my first one in the bigs. The Laugh Factory is the real deal, with top-of-the-line facilities, audio/video support systems, a closed circuit television system and A-level comics. In fact, the room itself reminded me more of a Vegas lounge than a Manhattan comedy club.

I did well. As well as I’ve ever done. So, I was pleased when I sat down afterwards (and my blood pressure returned to near normal levels). Then, I watched as real, professional comedians dazzled the audience. And, I was humbled (and very thankful for my day job).

Playing in the big leagues is a scary, but exhilarating, experience. I think I’ve mastered the timing and techniques, but now I know it really is all about material.

So, just like the minor league phenom who gets his shot with the major league parent club but sees how much he still needs to refine, I’m now heading back to the minors. I’ve got to learn to hit the ball out of the park before I can reasonably expect a second cup of coffee at the Laugh Factory.