Thursday, June 27, 2013

Be A Better Marketer: Do You Have Someone to Tell You No?

I just finished watching a train wreck of a commercial. I'm not going to name names, but let me fill you in on the concept. The owner of a local car dealership is at the wheel of his truck. As he's driving along, he continually looks up at the camera - clearly mounted on the passenger side visor - and in a demanding tone, tells the viewing public that if they're not buying their car from him, he wants to know why. He gives his personal cell number, assures people he'll answer the phone himself, and then we go to the dealership logo. The entire time, his attention is clearly divided between the camera and the highway he's driving on.

Yeah, that's real safe!

Conceptually, there's nothing particularly wrong with this ad - chances are you've seen variations of it thousands of times. But execution really is everything. A noticeably distracted driver is not the best choice to sell cars! This man's tone of voice was aggressive, not inviting. He didn't look good, sound good, or reflect well on his business.

Be A Better Marketer: Looking Bad is Entirely Avoidable!
Advertising is never free. Even in this small market, a television commercial is a significant investment for the small business owner. Before you spend that money, you want to make sure that you're making a wise decision. This requires an essential step: having someone who can tell you "No!"

What this car dealership owner clearly needed was someone on his side to take a look at the commercial - BEFORE IT AIRED - who would say "Dude. You're a great guy, but this commercial's just not working. Why don't we try it again? You'll be just as effective - and a whole lot safer and more focused! - if you're standing in front of one of your trucks instead of driving. If we change a few sentences around, you'll sound friendlier and less scary, too!"

It's important to understand that the TV ad rep is not going to do this for you. Their job is to sell ad time. They don't care if your ads are good, bad, or indifferent: they just want you to buy a bunch of them. The same dynamic is at play when you're buying print advertising, radio advertising, or doing online advertising. Some reps are better than others, but it's always, always, always a bad business decision to leave the responsibility for your company's image in their hands. That's yours, and you need to own it.

Everyone needs a second set of eyes to look at their work. In this instance, it was very clear that this dealership owner was handling production duties on his own, probably to keep costs down. The skills you need to be a great car dealer are not necessarily the same as the ones you need to be a great commercial producer.

Have a trusted employee, colleague, or friend review your all of your advertising before it goes live. This should be someone who is both sensible and confident enough to tell you "No way!" when an ad will make you look bad. It can be hard to hear that the ad you worked so hard on is a stinker, but it's much better to hear that before your market has seen the ad! Money spent on crappy ads is money wasted, and in this economy, who can afford to do that?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reading Between the Lines

There's a PSA running on Quebec radio that goes something like this:


"Yes, my air conditioner is broken."

"Lady, this is 911. For emergencies."

"Yes, my air conditioner is broken and it's getting hotter in here by the minute. My address is 6595 Any Street."

"I understand, Ma'am. We'll send someone over right away."

Then it cuts to a message about you can call for help with domestic violence.

A not-unrelated story: a friend, detailing the physical and emotional abuse that led up to the dissolution of her relationship, shared a story where her partner broke her cat's leg by throwing the cat across the room. She said, "The vet knew. And probably also knew that I was in a DV situation before I did. "She fell" sounds a lot like "I walked into a door" or "I fell down the stairs".

How much of our ability to save each other, to care for each other, to break the cycle of abuse, is dependent on our ability to read between the lines. It's not enough to hear what is said. You have to hear what is meant. Sometimes that means listening for the words that aren't there, the things that aren't said.

There are reasons his is difficult. The first is that we're collectively not in the habit of paying attention at all. Never mind listening to what isn't said, we don't hear what is said. We're not present in our conversations. Sometimes we don't even know who we're talking to at all:

There are reasons we don't pay attention. We're busy. We're overwhelmed. We have places to go, people to see, important things that require our attention more than what or who we're currently engaged with. We live our lives on autopilot: how many times have you driven a familiar route - let's say from home to the office - only to realize you didn't see anything along the way? Our minds are continually occupied and this keeps us from living the lives we're supposed to have.

The 911 dispatcher gets thousands of calls a day - some of them from people who are calling because their air conditioners *are* broken, which is generally outside of 911's scope of service. It takes a cultivated awareness to pause long enough to think "Maybe something else is going on here!" and discern the meaning behind the words.

Vets, like other health care providers, are forced to see more and more patients in less and less time to make their revenue model work. It takes experience, compassion and a cultivated awareness to stop long enough in the normal course of events and say "Cats don't just fall like that. What's really going on here?"

There's very little education in our lives about how to develop our awareness, to discern the meaning behind the worlds, to look a little deeper. But that's exactly what we must do if we're going to change the lives we live, the lives other people live. If we're going to build a better world, we need to start paying attention.

Monday, June 3, 2013

On the Latest IRS Scandal: Do Good Management Practices Apply Only To People We Like?

Right now, on my desk, I've got a notice saying I need to pay the IRS nearly $2,000. The tax man is not my favorite guy right now - I don't think anyone ever likes to pay taxes.

That being said, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with the coverage surrounding the IRS conference expenditures. The agency has reportedly spent $50 million dollars for 220 conferences, over 2 years. That works out to roughly $227,000 per conference, although some conferences cost far more (one is reportedly $4 million!) and some obviously less. The IRS has 106,000 employees, according to Wikipedia.

One piece of information I haven't seen so far is how much is spent on conferences by other government agencies of comparable size over a similar time period. Numbers without context aren't tremendously helpful. I would like to see an agency-by-agency breakout of this information, and I bet other people would too. Just saying "Oh, they spent $50 million!" is good for whipping up the emotion - $50 million being spent by people you don't like just sounds terrible - but we can't forget that ALL of the money the gov't spends is taxpayer money; not just that spent by the IRS.

But that's not even the biggest part of the problem. The troublesome bit is the outrage leveled at the fact that the IRS employees were participating in team building exercises. Some of these exercises were fun! They involved dancing! People were visibly smiling and having a good time!

It would be interesting to have performance assessments of the IRS employees before and after these conferences, both self-assessments and objective third party assessments. Because here's the thing: team building exercises, morale boosting drills and the like are all designed to improve performance. They're a tacit acknowledgement that all work is performed by people, and people have complex emotional and psychological needs. When you take steps to meet those emotional and psychological needs, your employees perform better. This is not rocket science. This is Management 101.

For example, let's look at police officers. Due to the nature of their work, police officers are regularly exposed to traumatic events. That's why good police departments make sure there's counseling & support services available for their teams. Healthy, strong bonds between police officers not only provide for better law enforcement, they keep every one safer.

IRS employees are probably among the most hated professionals in the country. They have a thankless task that is complicated and ever changing. The tax code is more that 73,000 pages long. And budget crunches (believe it or not in the context of this story)mean that there are fewer employees doing more and more work. This is not a recipe designed to deliver top performance. In fact it is the opposite: put people in a difficult, high-stress job that everyone hates them for having.

Every single IRS employee is a person. Is it such a stretch to see that these people might need some emotional support? That their morale might be impacted by having everyone hate them?

If we agree that the IRS employee teams are performing a needed function, aren't these employees entitled to the same management tools and techniques people in other industries use to get top performance from their teams? Or is good management something we reserve only for the people we like?

We can argue about the amount of money spent all day, and somewhere, someone probably is. But let's stop the discussion about whether or not it's appropriate that the IRS employees have access to the type of team building, morale building exercises that are common practice to provide employee support and boost performance in many industries. People who are treated well do better work. Retaining skilled IRS employees is always going to be more cost-effective than attracting and training new employees. If that takes a little dancing and some cupcakes, so be it.