What About Hiring Artists?

Early in my career, one of my corporate mentors took me aside and told me, “If you hire an artist to paint your picture, don’t tell them how to paint it.” That piece of advice has hung with me for more than 40 years now, and from time to time I use it with co-workers and clients.

 

For the most part, the feedback I get is very positive. People will tell me it is sage advice and that it makes a lot of sense. Some will qualify their reaction by adding to the statement things like, “But do hold them accountable” or “Be sure you are very clear about your objectives.” And believe it or not, I understand and appreciate all of that and probably agree with 95 percent of the add-on suggestions.

 

What is very interesting, though, is that from time to time I will hear from some people who surprise me with how they are “offended” by such a statement or admit they “just don’t get it.”

 

In nearly every case, as time rolls along, those same people are the ones who I find changing game rules, repurposing objectives, and micromanaging the work at hand. They do this almost instinctively, with little concern for what has been accomplished or the outcome to be realized. Maybe they just can’t help themselves and don’t want to be reminded of what poor managers and leaders they really are. When a leader has confidence in himself/herself and the team members chosen, it’s best to let them “play the game” to the best of their ability. Have confidence. Have faith. Offer encouragement and don’t throw up barriers.

 

I stand by the statement. To be successful, surround yourself with good people, understand their strengths, assign appropriate tasks, and then get the hell out of the way and let them make you proud of what you collectively accomplish … with reasonable direction.

 

─ Bill

Job Hunting: Why the Extra Mile Matters

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Unlike older generations, millennials have a very visible and extensive social media history, documenting everything from their earliest musical recital to their college graduation. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn offer a glimpse into the lives of your friends and family, and allow potential employers to catch a glimpse of who you are and what you value outside the confines of your resume and cover letter. Accustomed to a very public world, younger generations, including recent college graduates who are searching for jobs, often forget to censor what they post on their profiles.

 

When Lee Hecht Harrison, a talent development consulting firm, asked hundreds of job seekers how active they are on social networking sites, 48 percent of respondents claimed that they are very active on a daily basis. What’s more important is who is looking at them. Careerbuilder.com conducted a survey and found that close to 40 percent of employers say they use social media networks to screen potential job candidates, and 34 percent of those respondents admitted that they have found content on a candidate’s profile that cost them the position.[i]

 

“There’s a lot of stuff out there that can either hurt you or help you depending on how on top of it you are,” Sarah Downey, a privacy analyst at Abine, told Fox Business. [ii] Making sure you have the basics down like  steering clear of typos and foul language, posting photos that present you in a positive light, and making sure the information you share is coherent and applicable to your industry, is important. Yet, it’s not just all about having the bases covered.

 

Potential employers aren’t only screening social media profiles to dig up dirt; they’re also using it to see how you use social media to network and engage with others. Honing your storytelling skills on social media, showing your sense of humor, and demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit can make a big difference.

 

Job hunters are beginning to go beyond the typical resume and catching potential employers’ attention through video, whether it is via Snapchat, Twitter, or video cover letters.[iii] With a little creativity, landing that dream job could be as simple as picking up your smart phone and posting the right things.

 

─ Lydia

 

[i] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/04/16/how-social-media-can-help-or-hurt-your-job-search/. Accessed on June 29, 2015

[ii] http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/06/03/what-your-social-media-reputation-says-to-employers/. Accessed on June 29, 2015

[iii] http://miami.cbslocal.com/2015/07/06/social-media-could-help-job-seekers-land-a-gig/

 

Managing Client Expectations

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There is no textbook I know of that tells marketers how to manage client expectations. My experience has been that it is a mix of art and science, the percentages of which are actually calculated over time, based on nothing more than “real life” experiences.

 

I spent nearly 20 years working in corporate America for some of the country’s best corporations and with some of industry’s leading marketing and communications people. What I learned from that and the next 30 years of running my own marketing communications business, is that no two clients are exactly alike. Therefore, to think you can come up with an off-the-shelf solution for managing expectations is foolhardy at best.

 

What I can tell you with some sense of confidence is that most clients I have worked with, internal or external, appreciated a good listener. That simple skill seems to open the door for sharing of information, opinions, and ideas.

 

Another important thing I have discovered with age is that the more senior the people are that you work with in an organization, the more normal they are as well. Politics and game playing is a middle management phenomena or curse. The senior people I know have little time for fighting and backstabbing.

 

The third and final point I’ll share in this post is that the best way to manage client expectations is not to tell them why or how something cannot be done. As a supplier, it is your job/our job/my job to find ways to make things, the right things, happen as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

 

It is really pretty simple when you stop and think about it. Clients expect value for money. It is up to us to deliver.

 

─ Bill

Ten Tips for Approaching a New Writing Project

writing-tipsWhether it’s naming an internal sales training program, crafting a brochure, or drafting a scientific paper, it can be daunting to tackle a new writing project, be it large or small. Here are a few tips for getting started and making the job more manageable:

 

  1. Get in the right mindset. Writing is not easy. Period. Don’t expect the right words in precisely the right order to flow effortlessly like ticker tape from your fingertips. Good writing takes time, hard work, and rewriting. The fact that writing is hard does not mean something is wrong – quite the opposite. Recognize this, and you’ll feel better already.

 

I find great comfort and wisdom in the following excerpt from a recent Facebook comment posted by the brilliant, prolific columnist and novelist Anna Quindlen: “When I speak to students the first thing I tell them is how hard I find writing. I’m afraid that in the U.S. we have bought into some false notion of natural talent; translated that means if you’re good at something, it must mean that it is easy for you. Therefore students who find writing arduous conclude that they are not writers,” says Quindlen. “I don’t know any first-rate writers who don’t feel as though it’s pushing a rock uphill. So tell your students that when they are pushing hard, they are in very good company.”

 

  1. Study up. Find out as much as you can about your subject in proportion to the scope of the task at hand. If you’re writing a piece to meet a business need for a client, read anything relevant to your topic from advertisements and packaging to press releases, websites, and competitors’ materials. Find out who can provide more details about the subject and related communication challenges, and talk to them. Ask questions until you get the needed background materials and answers, particularly about objectives the client would like to accomplish.

 

  1. Plan and outline your content. No, it doesn’t have to be a formal outline, complete with Roman numerals (although for something like a peer-reviewed journal article this level of detailed planning helps!). At least jot down the main bullet points you want to include and think through a logical flow for the story you’re telling. This thinking creates a roadmap to follow in writing your rough draft and ensures you won’t miss anything. Of course, you can adjust direction if needed as your writing progresses (see step eight).

 

  1. Create a template for your writing project. Setup a new working document in the needed format, e.g., Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Add inworking headlines, section headers, and possible subheads as placeholders to outline sections. Apply needed styles for font selection and sizes. Drop in any existing boilerplate paragraphs, relevant approved copy from other pieces, quotes or notes to give you a starting point. Whether you’re writing a press release, website copy, a sales training manual, or video script, this will give you an instant sense of accomplishment and a great start – almost painlessly! And, having this template makes it much easier to do step five.

 

  1. Use the salami solution. In other words, take the entire writing job — the whole salami — and break it into more appetizing, less overwhelming bite-sized slices. The document template you created in step four will be a great help in tackling your project in palatable sections or even paragraphs. Pick an easy slice to start. As you fill in initial copy for each section, you’ll start to feel a sense of progress and most likely have an appetite for moving ahead to the next section.

 

  1. Avoid self-editing while composing the first draft. Let the ideas flow freely. You are creating! Stopping to fix grammar and typos while you’re drafting is counterproductive. Let your ideas and main points pour out without worrying about the perfect wording yet (that’s for the editing stages later). Feel free to jump around as you’re filling in your document template with initial copy – you don’t have to write in a linear format from beginning to end. In fact, it’s often better to come back and do the headline and lead last. After you’ve written the rest of the piece, you’ll have a better idea of the main points to highlight up front. Have some fun and be willing to write that bad first draft – it’s the pathway proven by the world’s great writers for getting to better second and third drafts and finally to a terrific draft somewhere down the line. Step seven explains more about how to do this.

 

  1. Avoid mixing up writing, editing, and proofreading steps. Do one thing at a time.Most business writing projects start with learning about the topic, moving into planning what information you’ll present and how, then writing a first draft. After you have an initial draft, then put on your persnickety editor’s cape. Build in as much of a break as possible between composing and editing. It will be a much faster and more effective process than if you try to self-edit immediately after completing a draft. When you are ready to edit, break this into steps, too. Read it to yourself, either out loud or silently to listen to how it sounds and flows. Edit for accuracy. Edit for grammar. Ask yourself if you can remove words, sentences, or even paragraphs without diminishing the effects of the piece? Edit to breathe more life into your copy – are there livelier verbs you can use, can you replace passive voice with zippier active, do you repeat words or information? Eventually, when you have a final or near-final draft, then proofread. If you proofread a draft in process, you’ll end up doing it again after you add, delete, or move words around.

 

  1. If needed, bounce your approach or a section of work-in-progress off your co-workers. If you start to feel like you’re flailing around and not making progress, it could either mean you’re so close to the project that a quick check-step with a colleague will verify you’re on the right track or help you select the right lead from a couple you’re playing around with. Or it may mean that an adjustment is needed. Maybe you’re finding that the research really doesn’t support the main premise or you need to rethink the vehicle used (sometimes it happens). It’s not always obvious until you’re underway that the information you’re presenting may be more effective in a different format. Maybe it’s too thick or thin to fit in the current format.

 

  1. Just keep going. Or, as Nemo’s friend Dory, the little blue tang fish, says so eloquently in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.” I recall a few years back facing a particularly daunting website project that seemed to continuously grow faster than the piles of laundry created by my three children. I remember reaching out to my editor looking for a lifeline. She said simply, “You’re doing great. Just keep going.” Sometimes it’s just that simple. Product by endless product page, I kept going. Eventually, yes, I reached the end of the list before another product was added. The process will work. When you’re pretty sick of it, you can probably almost touch the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel (yes, the one that’s really not another train coming!).
  1. Oh, and read. A lot. Everything from billboards to Entrepreneur and People magazine to The Grapes of Wrath to mystery novels can inspire ideas. You’ll pick up techniques and word sensitivity while relaxing. Read different things. Read samples of whatever you’re trying to write, even from different industries – you’ll spark new ideas and figure out what works well and what doesn’t. Whenever I get too busy to read, it’s a red flag to me that something nonessential needs to go. And it’s not reading. As an added bonus, I’m much happier when I have a book in process selected by me, for me, just for fun. Plus it helps with work, too – gotta like that!

 

No need to take my word for it. As novelist Stephen King wrote in his book titled On Writing:      A Memoir of the Craft, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

 

─ Ada

Product Launches

product launchMy best guess is that I have personally been involved with more than 40 product and service launches over my career. Of that number, I can count on one hand the launches that fell short of expectation. By contrast, I can also tell you that I can count on two hands the number of launches that exceeded expectation. The remaining 25 or so launches were generally considered successful by most, yet did not quite meet my expectations. That begs the question, “Why?”

 

Looking back, aside from some definite variables that exist with each launch, there are some inalienable factors that are consistent with success.

 

My list of key success factors includes:

 

  1. A well-researched product or service need and offering. There is nothing to be gained by launching a product or service that no one wants.
  2. The people closest to that product or service have to believe in it. There can be no doubters. Products and services need “champions” to advance them. If there is no champion, there is minimal success.
  3. Every product and service launch comes with some degree of risk. The question you must ask yourself and all others involved is how willing are you all to take well-reasoned, calculated risks. If your tolerance for risk is low, then expect your reward to match it.
  4. Being willing to invest time, talent, and treasure is critical to payback. That is not to suggest that throwing money at a launch is necessarily going to assure success. By the same token, there is only so much you can do if you don’t have the needed resources to compete. The issue here is one of setting realistic expectations. This is not always easy if the people you are working with (or for) lack objectivity and real world experience. Those people are seldom happy.
  5. Patience to let your strategy kick in and your plans pay out is a must. Today more than any other time in history, we want instant gratification and success. It goes with being a high tech society. Unfortunately, like a good wine, good launches take time to happen. Rushing either is a big mistake.

I hope these insights are helpful. They have been proven to my satisfaction over time. Overall, I’m reasonably happy with our success rate and even happier with the great people we have on our team.

 

─ Bill