Archive for the ‘Business of Selling’ Category

The Recession Needs Balls

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

moreballs2.gif
I’ve been hearing a lot of people tell me they won’t do anything gutsy: Friends advising me against certain actions cause someone might react poorly (as if anyone’s paying attention); colleagues warning they think everything should be on pause while the economy recapitulates; partners saying no to events because they think it could hurt their “personal brand” (whatever that latest cliché means); and clients who feel their dulled-out partners might “get mad” over an overly-aggressive PR campaign (their partners couldn’t get press on their own though). Then I’ve overheard many suffering financially tell me they are waiting out this period to see what happens in a kind of take it day by day attitude that emits this kind of what will be will be or it is what it is or what can I do but wait and see. What I call “blah blah blah.”

Guess what? The chips have now fallen once again. Recession is here to stay, and regardless of what Government officials say, this is not a double dip. This is the third one… So get off the floor.

Laziness equals self-importance during a crap economy. If you think somehow things will magically change overnight–look Ma, Dow moved a notch–then you live in a fantasy land and the faster you wake up and stop paying attention to the creeps on TLC and E! Entertainment and DO SOMETHING the better it is for and your bank statement.

Having balls are at issue. The only way to get anything done worth doing is to take risks. No chance taken is wasting precious energy since same old same old sucks; you aren’t doing much to upgrade your position in life. Dare I say: it will help your personal brand?

There is no better time to stand up and say, “Let’s try that ridiculous idea in the office” (and in your personal life too, just imagine) than this goddamn second. It is that simple. If you look at our nation’s checkered history, all the fine successes that came up during down-down periods were when companies, the government or individuals said screw it let’s do it and went head-first to partake of the nuttiest, “over-the-toppest,” and most outrageous thing they could think of in their wildest, and least expensive, dreams.

Why? First, no one is paying attention to you anyway. Everyone is so darn turned inward right now that to get any attention you have to be shouting from a multitude of rooftops (see The Rules below).

Your clients/friends/lovers/associates/bosses/enemies could care less if you’re loud or noisy do because they’re ultimately worried about their own skin. They’ll appreciate you had the chutzpah to make a thing happen when they cannot. (Well, they won’t admit that to you but you’ll sense it.)

As for trouble gathering, it’s like the old saying that I will now make NEW: If it makes you feel good…do it!

There is a big group of workers doing a great noiseless job covering their asses–they worry about keeping their jobs more than doing their jobs. You know the ones: they act like wallpaper and hope to G-d no one notices they’re still there because they just do what they are told. Never make waves, always seem to be on the side of zero activity. Those people are useless. Yeah I know you aren’t one.

Alas, making money in this gargantuan recession is tough; there is not a ton of money for companies to spend. Ah but…when the dust settles ones who excelled with their heart will be remembered; the CYAers whose heads were down will be despised. With that, I offer some assistance.

The 5 Rules For Ballsiness In These Bad Times

1. Be consistent, be yourself
You know, I never thought I’d say this, but you got to hand it to Ex-VP Cheney. He never veers from who he is–even when it’s dastardly! The other day he was asked about the torturing he oversaw and said he wouldn’t take back the decision even if rendered unlawful. That’s an attitude many of us can learn from: not the position he’s taken, but the feeling that what he believes in is not swayable and you can’t make him take it back. In these times that kind of resoluteness is respected.

2. Rule the roost somehow
Find something that you can do at work that no one else can do and MAKE SURE it’s obvious that you are doing it–and well, and a lot of it, and with glee. Oh, and it helps if this is not part of your job! This is not kissing butt; it’s just finding a new way to be useful above and over the norm. Then, when you want to do something outrageous like I’m about to describe, more people will think “Yeah him.”

3. Find the loudest perch–and be a contrarian from atop the thing
Come up with a statement that is contrary to the popular view (like “I hate candy!”) and then get known for it. I’m serious.

4. Think up something fantastic
When you’re falling asleep at night and something weird but doable occurs to you, jump up and type it out on your PDA. Once you determine what you were trying to say, it will be a better idea in the morning. Then that germ of an idea has to be something you talk about with lots of folks. Shift your energy–daydreams and small talk - and get collaborative in a real sense. Don’t be competitive; be outright damning to anyone who thinks it is a bad idea. Remember that if everyone likes it there’s something wrong with the idea–someone has to hate it (it’s the law). And don’t let it get murdered by Committee Think, Inc.

5. Be Known as a Bitta Trouble Maker (Key Word “Bitta”)
Darn! Show off a little. They’re going to talk about you anyway. So in order to wreak havoc, make waves. It’s good to be remembered, particularly since the layoffs are not over, no matter what the economists (wrong) say. Trouble is healthy and yet more common in headier times. These days with so many scaredy cats working at their desks, someone with some verve/gusto will stand out as someone to KNOW. Everyone may be mad at K West, but his tour went on sale Friday and it’s nearly sold out. Trouble? T for paycheck.

And don’t forget: this thinking can help in pursuit of late night activities too.

Bottom line is there is no bottom line. There is no energy or gumption or newness in almost every industry. But you - you! - have one superb idea that is rambunctious and in line with how people are feeling–you can feel its ingeniousnes. I bet you could get others to participate in it, since, uh, they don’t have much going on besides award shows, tweeting, and fantasy football!

You got to be the guy who stands up in middle of a dull meeting and says what are we doing here? As good ole Sally Hogshead, author of “Fascinate”, says: “Never allow the size of your mortgage to exceed the quality of your work!”

Remember you have to secure buy in from everyone you work with. Way to get something going is to sell it, baby. Believe in the idea to such a degree that those whose normal M.O. is to naysay lunch orders might even go “You know! That dude knows what he is talking about.”

Be passionate, have your talking points at the ready, and explain what the agreeable colleague will get for going along. Show them what positivity/money/affirmation will occur should the idea become reality. Make it seem like they co-crafted it by writing down input. Like a Broadway producer once told me: “Never tell prospective investors the production is finished.”

If the ones who pay you paltry cash tell you “no you didn’t” cause you a) took a stand; b) went a little overboard with messaging or c) began to tell it like it is (”Our industry is so slow it’s killing us; it’s time to rush things,”) then you got to find better payers. Maybe you should simply say what I do when someone says to me, Well yes Richard but we should discuss this internally before it goes further….

“Okay I get it. It’s all good. Would you have the person that replaces you call me?”

Tweet @laermer

Service, Thy Name is Customer

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Hello to you, the service person. It’s a service world out there. And, this essay will use the word service many times. But, it’s a curious word that has had more than a few vacillating meanings—when someone says “I’m servicing” another, I immediately think something dirty. Yeah … But what does it mean to work in a professional service business? If you’re like 75 percent of the country, you’re genuinely in it for the customer, and your product is your intellect or your ability or something that you “do” for another—a pretty abstract concept. The morass of information about service seems to show what’s right and wrong for those who toil daily for the demanding yet worthwhile customer; but it becomes more complicated when you need to figure out how to DO a service and RUN your own successful company—because you have so many people telling you how to do your job, including the customer.

So what’s with customers? Well, they pay the bill—they’re pretty much the key component to the business, right? But they’re not always right about the business. In fact, they’re usually not right unless they’re highly educated or expertly trained in precisely what the endgame is. And if they are, well, why would they need you? Your job is to instruct your clientele on how you do what they can’t on their own (while not giving away any proprietary goodies), and to show them why, since you’re The Expert, you need to be given the BOTD (benefit of the doubt).

I work in PR and we’ve discovered that most clients don’t really know how PR works or how it’s successful. Let’s just say they haven’t a clue how to judge our work or gauge PR success. We live on the theory that resolving to tell folks what’s right for them—whether they agree or not—is how to be a true service professional nowadays. Because, when you think about it, no matter how the customer feels about you when you tell him he is dead wrong, if you succeed, all the bad feelings go away quickly.

Keep in mind: Is this a popularity contest? Or are you there to get a job done? The good news about being resolute is that people respect you for it even if they won’t admit it. Respect from those who buy your services is tough to get. I’d like to tell you a little secret I learned about 10 years ago at the beginning of the tough-to-manage dot com revolution: Your clients like to be told what to do. They’re actually slightly submissive and want you to take charge, push them into a corner, stand proud, thump your chest and say, “This is me and this is what I’ve got to offer.” They just won’t admit it.

Most of the people I know in various PR and marketing industries slap me down when I go there. “Gosh, Richard, I have to do what the client wants.” But that’s exactly how you get into trouble. What makes you think someone who doesn’t have a clue about PR has good advice? Because he reads David Pogue’s column once or twice a month?

Customers, I’ve decided, don’t really like being asked what they want, because they don’t know! Henry Ford said it many years ago, and it still holds true: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have told me, ‘a faster horse.’ ” (Yes, I owned that horse in the form of a Fiesta.) What’s the point of asking a question to someone who doesn’t know the answer? Tell them what they need to do! Get the buy-in from them by non-lazily and passionately explaining why you are the person they paid to do it. Yes, an Expert.

Sounds like common sense and still most folks will ask the client “Do you have the time to …,” which makes me shake my head feverishly. What’s time got to do with it? Cue Tina Turner. So, here’s what you need to tell them if you really find the idea/request/pattern/next step worthy: Tell them why. Tell them precisely why. Get them to see what they’ll get FOR doing it and what they will get FOR NOT doing it. If the former is better, then make ‘em DO IT.

Remember how I learned a lot about pushing people around in ‘97? See, back then there were so many minor players managing businesses who should have been selling shoes (funding was everywhere; “dumb money” we called it aptly). These little people had a fondness for telling PR pros that he or she “deserved” to be on the cover of Red Herring (circ. 50,000). We would point out, firmly and simply, that even if their self-importance were to spread in that direction, they’d most likely GET NOTHING from it: the business they were growing would not get a lot of new business from The Cover since said company was too incomprehensible and without a fully developed message (or product). Being on the cover of a magazine would in fact do a good turn toward confusing the readers! We pushed back again and again. They pushed back again and again. But we eventually won because the piece we painstakingly placed in the quasi-reputable Silicon Alley Reporter (circ 10,000) got them more partnerships and wannabe customers than anything they thought they, uh, deserved. From that moment on, I resolved to never let anyone boss us around unless they did PR. Because otherwise, our service would just be … a disservice.

Twitter @laermer

The NBC PR Disaster & End of Corporate Speak

Monday, January 18th, 2010

conan-heller.jpgI would have thought that all conglomerates have learned how quickly they can be damaged by “not checking in” with their customer base. Doesn’t anyone remember a year ago when Tropicana disastrously changed their carton without asking if anyone loved the old one? But no one at NBC Universal Comcast GE Microwave got a whiff of the orange-flavored catastrophe so they stepped right back into shit with their heads in the air. And no matter how they paint this pig, the last-place network has lost a huge swath of TV watchers (and we all watch TV, no matter who says “Not me”) by telling us how the Leno drama will end up.

It’s as if they thought we would somehow accept their final answer.

A statement along the lines of “Don’t worry, we’re fine moving Jay into Conan’s slot” was a classic that worked great before we became our own TV networks. That is, we are now the people who make the news. Water coolers are no longer where the action is–it’s on our handheld Black-i-Pres where we wouldn’t dream of quoting a major news story we didn’t have an opinion on. And yes, there was a time when we might be swayed by the machinations of an evil (but persuasive) newsmaking machine.

Back in the days of The Cosby Show being moved opposite Magnum P.I., a powerful media corporation could dictate a success by aggressively shoving a plethora of ads down our shrugging throats. (Even in 2005, when Grey’s transferred to Thursdays, it worked because “Choose Thursday” was plastered behind every toilet!) But now we do the shoving. We are the tweeters and status-updaters and IMers and G-talkers who make opinionated decisions based on how we feel about the deciders. Zucker & Co. will find their unsubtle ways emulated by the people as we take our fight to the well-oiled Internet.

And so this will be an unwinnable public fight that an old-fashioned conglomerate will regret.

It only gets worse for NBC who has to wince as side-show celebrities take sides in an ugly, unfettered way. The slot winner (Jay) has a single star in his corner–and Mr. Seinfeld is already on the payroll cause NBC’s committed to his tacky reality series soon to be renamed Jerry Is a Whore. Rosie O and Jimmy K have been nastily telling Jay to do “the right thing” so Conan can retain the throne–Kimmel went so far as to say “We have children–you have cars.” Alas, NBC has become so righteous and indignant that if Leno did say I’m out of here there’s simply no way NBC could keep the 11:35 brand from dom. Really, this is a circus created in less than a month that should never have gone this far.

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NBC played it too close to the chin–er, vest and did not look our way. It’s a corporate error still mass-produced by many media companies as they leak news to same-size media companies and believe we will accept the verdict because it’s all business and nothing is personal. But NBC chieftains (like those orange dudes) are not cognizant of how much personal time we spend laughing at the disasters powerful people make every day. We laugh at the news–we laugh at the way it is covered–we laugh at the tone. Our thought is always, “As if we don’t already know what’s going on.”

We already know NBC is scared witless they made a mistake. And they never bothered to come to us for advice. And that is PR 101.

NBC Universal needed to concoct an online forum using the requisite tools–Twitter, Facebook, a popup micro-site, Linked-in, even colorless NBC.com - to gather ideas given them by a few who care who hosts what. If they had, they’d be in a powerful position to say “We got this data from knowledgeable, helpful participants.” The results might have surprised them.

What we have here is a unique dilemma. Two big players on one network is normal–but one is always more popular by far. Jay Leno is the handy standby that luckily signing a decent contract allowing him to work until he drops dead. Conan O’Brien is the risky business decision–quirky, unbalanced, nervous-to-a-fault, freakishly tall–now being thrown out like yesterday’s omelet because his early show didn’t rise to hit levels by usual standards. These are two separate stories that should not have competed for public attention. Leno should have been put on hiatus–isn’t that word that everyone uses for cancellation anyway?

I’m surprised, too, that GE has such a short memory about Tonight. Doesn’t Zucker have copies of memos about how poorly Leno performed post-Carson? NBC stood firm with carefully crafted press statements until Leno started winning. The holders-of-the-pink-slips did same for an unknown O’Brien when he took Letterman’s 12:35 show with little notice. [NBC was always the evil empire. They started the Irishman with 26-week contracts.]

In 1993, remember that Letterman was god, but the notion that of canning Leno after seven months and playing musical time periods was unfathomable. It’s insulting to the host and the well-honed staff that has just gotten going; still, but it would have been seen as a slap to viewers who may not be watching but waited to see what others thought about the change.

In 2010, anyone who reads knows O’Brien ratings are low, granted, but Nielsen is only a part of the story today. The “viralness” of some of the current Tonight stunts have been gaining ground and people began to talk…which always leads to an increase on TV and a lot of sponsored Hulu hits. Simultaneously, NBC ruined Jay Leno at 10 by forcing him to be a PR guy whose guests were network stars of their own troubled (read stale) programming. Zachary Levi is colorful on Chuck, but come on!

Now the online/offline/phone-addicted public has their arms firmly folded (and will remain that way) because NBC drop-kicked the redhead and never checked with 24/7 tweeters to ask how would you feel about a switch.

Doesn’t NBC know anyone over at Tropicana?

Funny thing is–asking people (”in an Internet chat where we discussed our problems”) gives these suits an ability to claim, say a year from now, that O’Brien was paid out because the viewers spoke up and said it was time for a change. Key word: time.

And the current big-rating monologues are silly (”Guess what,” murmured O’Brien, “I’ve been offered a role in a porno…and I’m considering it!”) and are helping no one. It’s fun like a poke in the eye! Keeping the fisting skit that Conan did about NBC on its own ad-supported Hulu isn’t a sensible strategy. It’s also not funny for new owner Comcast who has to clean it up.

Don’t you find it uncomfortable watching two corporate stooges poking fun at one another while competitors use their public fight to bring viewers in? (Seth Meyers on SNL: “This week you didn’t need Cinemax to see someone get screwed on TV.”) The pit bosses know the two Tonight hosts’ careers have been irreparably blown and still neither’s camp has done anything but cower–and bitch. “Team Conan” concept is a tween-era marketing boon for the Twilight set that won’t mean more people turning in after he moves to E!.

In a few short weeks the dust is sure to settle. Leno will pop back up at 11:35 (wistfully, with his lips smacking); Conan will get a million viewers who can locate him after Chelsea Handler or Wanda Sykes; The Late Show host will be crowing like mad and winning, I guess; and no one will care. By then Charlie Sheen will be jailed, hospitalized or dead and we’ll all be jawing about the new laugh riot Toby Maguire on 3 and a Half Men.

After the Vancouver Olympics no one will be talking about NBC–a boycott will be underway–and I’m sure young Fallon will be blamed, tarred and feathered. Those pride-filled peacockers will have a big hole to fill. It will be their mouths. Because no one in our networked world wants to be told who is good or bad. And as far as numbersl, in the DVR Culture world Nielsen no longer holds the cards to what succeeds.

We have them. We deal them every single day.
******
Twitter @laermer

TrendSpotting Tips For Marketers

Monday, November 16th, 2009

playworkstuff.jpgOn the 1-year anniversary of the launch of “2011: Trendspotting,” I have decided to ponder a variety of trends to look forward to in business:

    Out with the bad customers.

These days, businesses generally subscribe to the theory that it

Kanye Swift: A Marriage Made In Heaven

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Wherefore art thou, decorum?

Let

Gossipeur: The Second of an Inane Series

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Starting last Friday, until whenever it ends, I will be reporting on the facts behind gossip

Gossip Cop: To Protect and Serve Who?

Friday, August 28th, 2009

This is the first of an inane series on one of America

It

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

It

Is Socialism The Norm & We Just Don

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

The country is currently immersed in a wide-ranging (and healthy) discussion about health care. This overhaul of the for-profit system we use is alarmingly overdue so the debate is on in every city and town.

Without going into detail for days, some Democrats, including President Obama, are trying to enact a plan that would revamp the entire industry. Part of it would mean Americans could essentially purchase low-cost insurance from the Government. This is called

Google Voice: Death Of Phone As We Loved It

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Few people noticed when Google shelled out $95 mill for a startup called GrandCentral in 2007. The company

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