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Thinking Things

Blog

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On Women of Influence

Posted on 15 April, 2012 at 10:28 Comments comments (0)
When Successful Meetings magazine started unveiling its 2012 list of The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry, I sent a note applauding them for revealing the honorees alphabetically one week at a time. I thought it was a brilliant piece of marketing that promised to keep the list living and breathing at least through half the year. As one of the people responsible for creating the concept years ago (when I was Editor of sister publication Business Travel News and later Publisher of Meeting News), I admired anything to keep the feature in the news, especially when it used to be “one and done” – appeared in our January issue, got two or three Letters to the Editor, and basically was forgotten soon after by anyone not on the list.

While the dream of any publication or article is to spur evaluation, discussion and controversy among readers, SM’s strategy, perhaps unwittingly, belongs in the Marketing Hall of Fame. You see, for the first dozen or so announced influencers, none was a female. When the comments of outrage began flying, from both men and women, on how any initiative from an industry with about 75 percent (I’m guessing) of its constituents females could not name a single woman to its honor roll, I asked one of my conscientious objector friends whether the entire list had been revealed yet and offered that perhaps she and her band were jumping the gun. SM, for its part, had remained silent.

Sure enough, a week later when Successful Meetings Editor in Chief Vincent Alonzo returned from vacation (either at a destination short on internet service or possibly to allow this spicy soup to simmer further), he calmly explained there were 10 women on the list and as luck would have it their last names all began with letters in the second half of the alphabet.

Argument diffused? Not for everyone. Some actually suggested SM was now scrambling to alter its list to appease the protesters. I wish I had that much skepticism when I was a journalist -- maybe believable if he said there were two women, but not 10. And what kind of injustice would that be for the 10 you’d be removing? Do you believe Vincent? I do. Successful Meetings has held a respected place in the community for years – I don’t think they are capable of (1) making such an obvious oversight in the first place and (2) correcting it by scouring lists of talented women whose last names begin with M through Z. You have to compile the list all at once, in advance, comprehensively, and, as editors, challenge your list time and time again before publication – who have we forgotten, what groups are not represented, can we make a solid case for each person on the list, where will complaints or controversy come from, are they justified or simply healthy differing opinions. Producing this article is not as simple as rewriting a press release on a new beachfront resort with great meeting space.

I can only dream when I was overseeing this project that it created so much controversy. Most of the feedback we usually received was a thank-you note from someone on the list – or their company, or their mother. Thanks to social media and a caring and astute network of followers, the best thing imaginable has happened to this list. I would think the industry is on alert and primed to see whom SM will add to the list this week, knowing females will be dominant the rest of the way. Surprised I haven’t seen any promotions to prospective advertisers looking for almost guaranteed exposure in the remaining weeks, especially if their copywriters are clever enough to take advantage and tailor a specific and relevant message. Regardless, the suspense is over for me – not only am I a male, but they already are way past the letter A, so once again I can only imagine “what if” and wait until next year.

Engagement Puts Meetings and Incentives at the Forefront

Posted on 10 March, 2012 at 17:47 Comments comments (0)
I asked three smart friends if they’ve ever heard the term, “Enterprise Engagement.” (I also asked three not-so-smart ones.) They were all clueless. I just heard the expression this week. Wikipedia tells us EE focuses on achieving long-term financial results by strategically aligning the engagement of customers, distribution partners, salespeople, and all human capital outside and inside of an organization. This approach unifies the organization under the banner of continually seeking to find better ways to help the end-user customer enhance the relationship with channel partners and suppliers and ultimately create new opportunities for the business rather than simply finding ways to improve processes. Companies run on the basis of Enterprise Engagement principles include McDonalds, Southwest Airlines, and Campbell Soup.

There’s a growing community devoted to Enterprise Engagement. There are articles on techniques and best practices. There’s an industry of companies helping to implement Enterprise Engagement programs inside all sizes of organizations. There are suppliers with products geared to this sector – many of them are rewards and recognition program developers. There’s the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and a magazine, Engagement Strategies. And there are case studies of how companies are launching and developing EE initiatives.

Enterprise Engagement is closely aligned with the meetings and incentives industry. Meeting planners and incentive professionals are in the business of shaping activities to influence attitudes, behavior and revenue. ROI is imbedded in their consciousness, measured by employee motivation, knowledge transfer, happy users, qualified leads, and eventually heads in beds, if you will. Once again, meetings and incentives are positioned to play an enhanced role in The Bigger Corporate Picture, driving principles and branding at every turn. Communications. Information. Rewards. Recognition. Achievement. Perception. At a time like this, there’s more at stake for the people who plan meetings and incentives. There’s also more at stake for the venues that host them.

For years, meetings professionals have been burdened with the ancillary task of justifying their own worth and that of the meetings they create – as if they didn’t have enough on their plates. As companies assess the importance and value of Enterprise Engagement, seek out best practices to achieve it, and pursue new levels of communications and awareness for their employees, customers, vendors, partners and any other stakeholders, don’t underestimate the opportunity for meetings and incentives. One could argue engagement starts, builds and continues via the meetings industry. If ever the profession wanted to be acknowledged in the Executive Suite, here’s the chance.

Industry Education Not Compromised

Posted on 27 February, 2012 at 7:04 Comments comments (0)
“If vendors are only focused on selling, they are missing the boat.”   This observation was offered by one of the most respected educators in our business, Joan Eisenstodt, in the context of an online discussion assessing the merits of hosted-buyer programs. Joan suggests that hosted-buyer programs -- which, by definition, include a component of one-to-one appointments between qualified buyers and sellers and may or may not include an education program – are putting too much emphasis on the buyer-seller meeting and are less conducive to getting suppliers in the industry “classroom” to bone up on the business. She calls it a further “imbalance of knowledge” between planners and vendors.

Here are some points I made to Joan in response to her comments:

1. Try to equate the actual one-on-one appointment time of hosted-buyer events with the trade show exhibit time of traditional shows. The difference for suppliers is that rather than standing uncomfortably at their booths praying for a live prospect to randomly come along, they have scheduled meetings that the show sponsor has already qualified as a potential business partner of that supplier. Think of the time and money saved and the awkwardness eliminated by cutting past the “dating” or qualifying stage.

2. The one-on-one appointments don’t have to take the place of education, as they wouldn’t at typical shows. Depending on the hosted-buyer event and format, it is just as easy to incorporate quality education if the event sponsor wants it. For the largest shows such as MPI, IMEX and AIBTM, there’s plenty of it. For the smaller versions, like Premier Meetings Exchange and the other events my company produces, there’s always an education program. Whether suppliers participate, that’s another matter.

3. There’s such a thing as education specifically geared for suppliers that help suppliers do their jobs better. There’s also education geared to meeting planners (which makes up the majority of industry education) that allows suppliers to sit in, hear what planners are saying and thinking, and better understand the very people they are identifying and targeting as prospective customers. I’ve always been an advocate of both. For better or worse, however, I believe the only reason most suppliers would want education is to give them a better chance of generating business -- and not for some higher, simpler motive that education and knowledge by their nature are intrinsically good. If they believe they can generate business without sitting through relevant or semi-relevant sessions, then they won’t do it, no matter what the format. Look at the history of our industry and the patterns of supplier companies. Those interested in attending education sessions are in the minority.

4. Suppliers – and maybe planners to some degree – want networking and direct business dialogue at least as much as they want education. Case in point: As a member of the Executive Committee and Vice President of Marketing for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter, I am involved with getting people to our monthly chapter events. We have to pull teeth to get 80 people to our education sessions. Yet when we do a networking event, we get over 200 without breaking a sweat. Here’s a pop quiz: What would you expect the attendance to be at a pure networking event with no educational component in the middle of winter (albeit a mild one) at night on a wobbly ship right off the water in a tough-to-reach location in lower Manhattan? Did I mention it was the day after the President’s Day holiday? Answer: It sold out.

Hosted-buyer events in no way restrict opportunities for planners and suppliers to partake in education if it is offered. I think we have to be realistic about suppliers’ behavior, intentions and objectives in the first place, and how they strategize to achieve their ultimate goals. That’s why the hosted-buyer concept was created, and that’s why, in my opinion, it works as a cost-effective, productive business endeavor for planners and suppliers alike.

Building Awareness For Your Brand

Posted on 17 January, 2012 at 8:36 Comments comments (0)
What’s the difference between the independent meeting planner you met on the elevator and the one you’ll have a drink with and the one you’ll sit next to at dinner? Visit their websites. Check their references. Still hard to separate.

Super customer service? If they don't make this claim, it could only mean they really don’t have good service. Best rate? Just until they are undersold, forcing them to offer their “ ‘best’ best rate.” Experience? Can’t dispute track records, although some recent examples in the news would challenge that stance.

I was chatting with a longtime planner seeking marketing help, and he couldn’t articulate why someone should choose him over others. Wouldn’t that be the first thing you’d determine before starting a business – or if you plan to get some business?

Try to answer this question: What’s so special about you? Ok, now that your confidence is up, consider these random thoughts as you look to build brand awareness and separate yourself from the pack. Note: proficiency of execution counts.

   1. If you don’t have an opinion, find or steal one. You need a voice, which you can cultivate and use everywhere – social media, website, blogs. You don’t have to be a thought leader – let’s face it, everyone can’t – but relevant thoughts count, and people will listen and take notice when you deliver them.

   2. Nominate yourself for awards – better yet, win some. There’s nothing like telling the market someone has recognized you. Plaques look great on walls, and one award is worth months of publicity and branding, on marketing pieces, press releases and email signatures at the least.

   3. Look for speaking opportunities. Industries crave new voices and personalities, as keynoters or panelists. Seek out the groups appropriate to you, determine their proposal process and timeframe, and get with – and on – the program.

   4. Write a guest post. Industry websites and publications that want to be content machines welcome relevant opinions. Write on a topic that does not directly promote your product but provides useful information to your audience. Remember: content sells; selling doesn’t.

   5. “Always Be Helping” replaces “Always Be Closing.” Get away from the hard-sell approach and be a resource  -- it will be a quicker route to earning trust and respect, and increase your odds of getting the business anyway.

   6. Make your website a work in progress. Many people redesign and refine their sites, then go to sleep on them. How can you keep it vibrant and changing so that your market wants to come back and check it out first thing every morning?

   7. Write a White Paper. In a world where custom content is king, take charge and produce the de facto, in-depth research on the topics that matter to your audience and that position you as a thought leader (oops, as a thoughtful person).

   8. Speaking of research, there’s nothing like snap industry polls that generate quick content and compelling information for a market. Consider one of the many reasonably priced services that allow you to survey your audience and post timely results on your site and via social media.

   9. Be everywhere – or give the impression you are. Social media. Live events. Quotes in industry publications.

 10. Take a reporter to lunch. Relationships go a long way toward increasing your chances of standing out and actually getting coverage when you have something relevant to push. Understand how they evaluate information, what they look for, and how they make decisions on what gets in and what doesn't.

 11. Are you “a niche” or “all things to all people”? I’ve never met a travel agency, for example, that says it can’t handle corporate meetings. Many can, but most can’t – they’re just afraid to say they can’t do something for fear of losing a business opportunity. Let people associate you with a specialty.

 12. Join the conversation. Social media is an opportunity, not an obstacle. “Conversations are markets,” says author Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Use it to get in on the discussions and as a vehicle to lead viewers to your important links.

 13. Push a theme -- not a release. Press people get hundreds of releases. Yours better be on the level of a cure for a rare disease if you expect coverage. Approach the media with a theme, or a relevant topic for them to cover. Then you can lend key input because you happen to be an expert on the topic.

 14. Start a webinar series. Great chance for you to further your position of providing industry content while capturing leads of people who show a direct interest in the topic and hopefully your product category.

 15. PRWeb and others. There are services tailored to provide broad-reaching distribution of your news to the appropriate sources. Find them – and use them.

 16. Placement or purpose? At a past company, we had a great case study of a key client, and we had to decide: do we pitch this story to an industry publication or do we write it ourselves, manage the distribution process, and use it as collateral marketing material? Now if an industry pub picks it up, there’s the perception of a third party independently acknowledging you  -- but it’s confined to their circulation list. If you write it as impartially and non-promotional as you can, and share it intelligently using all the avenues at your disposal (social media, tradeshow handouts, mailings to your own lists), you likely will get a wider reach.

 17. Interview a key industry figure. Then market the interview and place it on your website.

 18. Friends in the right places. Latch onto key influencers. Have them follow you and serve as brand ambassadors.

 19. Testimonials. Generate as many as you can. Nobody says it better about you and your business than somebody besides you.

 20. Write a Letter to the Editor. In this world of editorial teams having bare-bones budgets and challenges generating enough copy, nothing warms an editor’s heart than an intelligent, non-promotional letter on an industry topic that helps position you as someone of worthy opinions and expertise.

 21. Always be listening. You’ll be amazed what you’ll learn. 

Be Our Guest -- That Is, If You Qualify

Posted on 10 January, 2012 at 16:38 Comments comments (0)
Are you the type of meeting planner who would attend an industry event at an exotic resort all expenses paid and, as part of the bargain, speak with a few industry suppliers who have paid heavily to meet you even though you have no interest in their products?

Of course you aren’t.

Does an invitation to a so-called hosted-buyer program constitute a “gift” to the planner for which there are expectations of business and services to be purchased?

Of course it doesn’t.

Does participation in a hosted-buyer program represent a “gift" to the planner for which she is beholden to her corporate policy not to accept?

Of course it doesn’t.

Do I believe those conclusions above?

Of course I do – or do I?

I was reminded of these issues in a recent social media discussion that asked, “Do you regard attending industry events as a hosted buyer a gift? If corporate policy says no gifts over $75, is being a hosted buyer a violation of that?”

Just to review: In our ROI-is-everything world, hosted-buyer events have become a popular model: charge vendors higher-than-typical fees in exchange for guaranteed one-to-one meetings with pre-qualified, interested, prospective buyers of their products. The buyers usually are “hosted” by the event sponsor – it is the sponsor’s task to do the research, find the right attendees, and pay the freight to get them there. That’s hard work – that’s why the fee is higher than a tradeshow booth. The model has worked so well that Meeting Professionals International has abandoned the tradeshow component of its annual conference in favor of this formula. Other events on the largest scale and of the boutique variety are supplanting those traditional shows tired of aisle-strollers either afraid to make eye contact with vendors or adept enough to scoop up giveaways and vamoose.

So perhaps a few ethically challenged meeting planners are taking advantage of the hosted-buyer process, infiltrating the event’s good people and good intentions, agreeing to participate even if their buying interest is not that strong or sincere, and in turn making some vendors wince trying to sort them from the true buyers. Event sponsors’ reputations are on the line – they have to get beyond the mere name value of the buyer and truly understand his or her buying potential, buying patterns, buying needs, and decision-making authority.

When done correctly, the payoff is enormous for all sides. I attended a hosted-buyer event last year as a supplier, coughed up the entry fee, and in two days had 40 twenty-minute meetings. About 38 of the buyers were legit, 15 were A prospects, five became customers, and I for one became a believer – as the paid participant no less. Looking for a frightening exercise? Try calculating the cost of sale to find 40 potential buyers and five new pieces of business. By any measurement, a lot of smiles and miles.

As my social media thread-bearer correctly deduced, “Being a hosted buyer with the right intent to see possible vendors and network within the industry does not constitute a 'gift' but good business.” There is no unauthorized “exchange of goods” heaped upon the hosted buyer, and there are no promises or commitments made or implied by the buyers themselves – just that they are the right buyers.

What’s worse than incentivizing tradeshow attendees to stop by a booth merely to get their bingo cards punched in order to qualify for who knows what? Maybe it’s a hosted buyer who is not a buyer at all – but rather a hosted liar? Hosted-buyer event producers deserve much credit for doing the necessary legwork and producing intelligent business environments, for weeding out the questionable buyers, and for identifying and locking in the right ones. Bringing buyers and sellers together. That’s the age-old mantra – long may it live.

Fearless Forecasts For 2012

Posted on 5 December, 2011 at 8:21 Comments comments (0)
Listen to these old industry trends I dug up looking through magazines in the attic: shorter and smaller meetings, meeting closer to home, more focus on content, shift away from luxury venues, evaluating objectives, decreasing lead times, doing more with less. Those were the hot buttons of another decade.

Fast-forward to the trends identified for 2012 in a just-released survey by American Express Meetings and Events: shorter and smaller meetings, meeting closer to home, more focus on content, shift away from luxury venues -- say, am I living in some kind of parallel universe?

Despite the results of the American Express survey, it’s hard to argue the meetings industry has undergone monumental change in recent years -- so much so that my own crystal ball for the next 12 months reveals some unusual themes you may or may not be hearing about. Take a look:

FACE TO FACE IS DEAD. Industry pundits, having fought off every challenge since the first videoconferencing to their claim that live events will always be essential, finally declare in 2012 that face-to-face meetings are dead. Authorities set up a special organization, called Let’s Face It LLC, to dismantle the meetings and events industry and, as their first act, announce a large live event in Las Vegas to celebrate the end of live events.

SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS UNITE. It’s billed as one of the largest consolidations ever, a mega-merger of all the major social media networks to create a sole super social society. Companies report radical jumps in productivity, saying employees are sleeping better, not waking so early or staying up so late to keep up with all their conversations, and coming to work fresher and more energized. The new super social site is called “The Twit.”

VENUES BY AMAZON.COM.  A new service allows meeting planners to find and book meeting venues on Amazon. Incredible features allow planners to actually negotiate with mock hotel sales reps – certain prompts allow them to create their own rep profile features and appearances. Venue gift cards are available, new and used venues are listed, and there are several delivery options.

NEW PRODUCT BOOSTS EMPLOYEE MORALE, EFFICIENCIES AND GROWS REVENUE. Developers in Santa Clara unveil a technology that, with one click, accomplishes many of the key objectives used to measure ROI at meetings without the need to even have the actual meeting.

CONTENT IS NO LONGER KING. Long considered one of the core reasons for attending events, experts proclaim an end to content as His Royal Highness, and usher in a new era known as The Age of Discontent.

BLOGGERS IMPRISONED. Failing to adhere to new laws demanding that learning objectives and relevance be stated in a blog’s first 50 words, government agents arrest thousands of bloggers and confine them to restricted quarters with access only to paper and pencils.

ASSOCIATION CREATED TO STUDY VALUE OF ASSOCIATIONS. A new industry association surfaces to evaluate how associations can stay meaningful, offer unique services, and retain membership in the face of competitive pressures and growing skepticism. The Association for Assessing Associations (commonly known as “Three Asses”) is still looking for its first members and industry volunteers after several months in existence.

ATTENDEE ENGAGEMENTS UP 62 PERCENT. Research reveals more attendees are meeting their significant others at industry events and setting plans for lifetime bliss and families full of baby planners.

CASUAL FRIDAY RENAMED. Close to two decades after the term “Casual Friday” came into existence to represent a generally accepted dressing-down day from formal office dress codes, several industry organizations commission a high-profile consulting firm to develop a more appropriate name now that more comfortable and practical attire is accepted pretty much every day. After exhaustive analysis, the consultants recommend the day now be called “Friday.”

So there you have it – my unofficial “head’s up” for 2012. Thanks for living in such an exciting industry, and thanks for allowing me to work and play in it along with you.

Stop Wasting Your Time

Posted on 11 November, 2011 at 13:42 Comments comments (0)
“You’re wasting your time on social media.”

As a casual Alec Baldwin gets ready to address a group of disinterested real estate salesmen at the start of Glengarry Glen Ross, he suddenly screams at Jack Lemmon to “put that coffee down!” A few seconds later, he asks, “Oh, do I have your attention now?”

With not quite the theatrics or the anger, Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author and speaker, grabbed the attention of MPI’s Westfield Chapter last night with the statement, “The vast majority of business professionals spending time on social media are just wasting their time.” Referring to statistics from Pear Analytics about Twitter, he noted:
  • 40 percent of tweets are “pointless babble”
  • 38 percent are conversations between users
  • 8.5 percent are self-promotions or promos
  • 8.7 percent have pass-along value

The message – there’s plenty of opportunity for those who can create relevant content on a regular basis.


“Conversations are markets,” says Schwerdtfeger. “If you want to access your market, you’d better participate in the conversation – that’s how you create awareness.” The center of your online identity should be your blog.

And the world of content is an open door. In fact, Schwerdtfeger noted while the first criteria for interest used to be the source (“If it’s in The New York Times, you’ll want to read it.”), now the first criteria is the content, regardless of the source. At the recent Folio Show for publishing and media pros, it was noted that only 3 percent of all blogs are written by media professionals.

Schwerdtfeger’s book, Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed, is chock full of tips and examples of how businesses can effectively use social media to enhance their brands and develop more business prospects. One example he mentioned was the idea of following the Twitter conversation about a competitor, especially keeping an eye out for unhappy customers. These people may represent opportunities.

The essence of any strategy to gain an edge through social media revolves around three questions:
  1. What do you do that is remarkable?
  2. How do you demonstrate that in a visual way?
  3. Will the content come from you or perhaps a customer or “ambassador” of yours?

Answer those three questions, he says, and you’re on your way to establishing online credibility.

A Lot Of Noise

Posted on 7 November, 2011 at 14:05 Comments comments (0)
Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? I write a blog, so while I hope this puts me in the latter group, I likely qualify for Platinum status in the former -- especially after hearing some staggering numbers. If you happen to be surfing the web, looking to sit by the fire and curl up with a good blog, well, you have 152 million to choose from, according to IDG’s Matthew Yorke, speaking at the recent Folio Show in New York and citing statistics from Technorati. Oh, you were looking only for fresh posts? Of those in the last 24 hours, seems you have 900,000 to sort through. Ok, eliminate the ones in non-interest categories, the ones that can’t construct a sentence, and those with nothing useful to say (please don’t abandon me yet), and you’re left with a more manageable number – say 75? If you have time to read one-fifth of those, you’re either bored at work, between jobs, or a blog consultant.

Consider these fascinating statistics reeled off by Yorke:  
  • There is one blog for about every 42 people on Earth.
  • 25 percent of time spent online in our society is spent on social media.
  • 46 percent of the world’s Internet users interact with social media daily.
  • 69 percent of business-to-business marketers are shifting budgets toward social media.
  • IBM has 20 Facebook pages.
  • $4.26 billion was spent on social media marketing this year.
  • Facebook has 800 million active accounts; 350 million are mobile users.
  • Facebook has 2 billion posts every day.
  • Twitter has 230 million tweets on average every day.
  • More than 70 percent of Twitter users are outside the U.S.
  • LinkedIn has 120 million users in more than 200 countries.
  • Ford says it got a 200 percent greater return for the Ford 2011 Explorer’s Facebook launch than it did for a Super Bowl ad.
  
It was great returning to the media world last week at the Folio Show. Sessions no longer instruct how to edit, how to design, how to “publish,” and how to work. The topics are more Big Picture, namely making sense of and managing digital and social media. I spend a lot of time in the meetings industry, so I’m used to hearing meetings people with budgets to hit or jobs to keep proclaim face-to-face meetings are “back.” (Actually, despite 152 million bloggers, a zillion generations of technology, and a recession or two, f2f never really went away.) Because of this crusade in the meetings industry, it’s easier for me to hear the case about a robust publishing market for print: 77,000 publications in the U.S. and Canada, says MediaFinder; 1,400 new advertising-generating brands being followed daily by Magazine Radar. Many of today’s brands anchor their strategies with print -- for the credibility, regularity, and to preserve the advertising form that charges the most. I liken the plight of print media to my sensation a few years back on a zip line in Costa Rica – hanging on for dear life and, for goodness sake, don’t look down!

Now certainly not all brands are clinging to the zip line cord like I was (see picture) – there are many that continue to prosper in print based on their merits and markets alone. But most integrated strategies have been overwhelmed by digital – and specifically social media – as a more-than-substantial information source. In fact the data flow is massive beyond comprehension – there’s a lot of noise out there. All the gaudy numbers help me understand how I can shout as loud as I want (bloggers don’t really have volume control) and never be heard. But if I use best practices to understand and touch my intended audiences with the right media and messages, I can level the playing field a little bit and create a flock.

Yorke also pointed out that bloggers are judged by the number of their followers, not so much their experience and background. Editors with journalism degrees apparently have no clear-cut advantage in their battle for audience affections. Yorke said only 3 percent of today’s bloggers come from professional media companies.

The free market for thought is more competitive than ever. But if that encourages – in fact demands -- a higher quality of content as an entry fee for attracting attention, then the system works -- at least until the next media paradigm comes along.

Superstitious?

Posted on 21 October, 2011 at 13:35 Comments comments (0)
For each of the five title-clinching games by the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox I’ve watched in my lifetime, I have worn the same “Nantucket red” sweatshirt. I’ve also dug up the same pair of blue jeans. If I could distinguish from my pairs of white underwear (and confess to keeping them that long), I probably would have sought the same pair and put them on. I assume the same position and posture on the sofa, don’t speak much, hardly eat, and take nothing more than the “mandatory” breaks.

I don’t wear the sweatshirt regularly – I only take it out on what I call “title nights.” This was all well and good. My outfit and idiosyncrasies had everything to do with the victories -- no disrespect to Brady’s arm or Ortiz’s bat.

Then the Giants beat the Patriots  -- with me in full regalia.

I always fold towels with the label to the inside. I keep the bills in my wallet facing the same direction, and in value sequence. I always turn my head from the TV when during a game they flash statistics that show probabilities. I intentionally look away, for example, when they tell me a team’s propensity for scoring inside the red zone. My peeking – and therefore knowing – in my superstitious world would constitute a violation that for sure would affect the outcome. Not to mention I’d turn into a pillar of salt.

Last year, the Pats were 14-3. I watched every one of those 14 wins alone in front of my television. I was in Calgary on business, invited to a friend’s house, and actually at the game for the three losses. An important lesson to friends: please make out-of-house social plans with my family on Saturdays, not game days.

Some would call this superstition. Others would call it fanatical nonsense. I’ve watched many Syracuse basketball games with my friend Alan in total darkness at his house in a small room that feels like a jail cell. Because of the darkness, it’s never quite clear how many other people are actually crammed into the tiny space. If this is Alan’s way to ensure victory, truth be told – I’m guessing the ‘Cuse wins about 70 percent of its games, so the strategy works often but not religiously.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That’s a superstition – and a cliché – that has run its course, if not in the sports superstition world then certainly in the business world. If it ain’t broke, I’d prefer not to have to think up a new strategy to stay ahead of the curve and at top of mind with my customers. Or, if it ain’t broke today, that’s no assurance the exact same product or strategy won’t be broken tomorrow.

A friend once ran a trade show that dominated its market, but the trade show attendees and exhibitors hated the trade show company itself. No need for any change – or customer coddling – until a bunch of its exhibitors jumped ship and created a competing show of their own. If it ain’t broke – oops, too late.

I watched another good guy years ago insist that no one could touch his portfolio of print publications. All was great, knock on wood. He didn’t have the energy to develop a digital strategy. Someone else did. Everyone else did! End of story. End of brand.

I’m currently involved with an organization taking a radical and bold step with its two signature events and creating something entirely new and different. Superstition says stick to the habits and strategies that got you so far (or had you believe they would). Forward thinking and courage say break old traditions that have lost their relevance or their seeming magical powers over time. Shed your meaningless superstitions and welcome in new ideas and creativity. Make your brands moving targets.

If it ain’t broke, go out and fix it anyway. And you’ll come to see there’s nothing like a different colored sweatshirt to keep things interesting.

Telling Truth to Power (Clients)

Posted on 6 October, 2011 at 9:33 Comments comments (0)
“The customer is always right,” is a mantra we hear all the time, so often, in fact, that it’s become canonized as one of the first rules of business. Alas, like most sweeping generalizations, it is also blindly misapplied. For while it might make plenty of sense in retail, when it comes to consulting, or event planning, it can ruin your business.  Here’s how and why.

In retail, stores are selling stuff, things, products. Retailing is simply about delivering those products to consumers through a pleasing, cost-effective experience. If a consumer is unhappy with the experience they get at a retail store, the assumption is they can always go somewhere else to buy the same product, so there’s almost no reason NOT to make the customer happy, even at the retailer’s short term detriment. Keeping the customer as a continued shopper, in the long run, is the ultimate goal.

Service businesses, on the other hand, provide much more customized interactions. The client comes to us for our specific, individual expertise. We take time to learn about them, their events, their goals, styles and desires, and then design and recommend solutions specifically tailored to their needs. If the client wants to do something that is not going to work, it is not only in our best interest to push back, it’s in the client’s interest too.

If you’re meeting with your accountant to discuss your taxes, and you want to write off your massage treatments as a business expense, (because, hey, you come up with your best ideas on the massage table), would you want him to say, “whatever you want, you’re the customer!” No way. You want him to look you hard in the eye and say, “Nice try. Unless your client is the masseuse, that’s not going to work.”

Sometimes pushing back to a demanding client can be difficult and awkward. But that’s what they need, and that’s what will make you invaluable to them. In The New York Times Business section (Valuing Those Who Tell You the Bitter Truth), Pamela Fields, the CEO of Stetson, talks about the importance of hearing divergent opinions from people who feel comfortable disagreeing with her.

The phrase, Speak Truth to Power, is typically applied to politics, where too often our leaders surround themselves with sycophants who are more interested in sucking up than in telling the truth. But the mantra applies everywhere. In sports we often see star athletes get ruined because there is no one in their entourage who speaks up about what’s in the athlete's best interest if it means disagreeing with him. (Think of Mike Tyson at the top of the list.)

And it certainly applies to working with our event clients, whether we are independents or agencies talking to paying clients, or in-house planners talking to our internal business unit clients. Soften the blow as needed, but you have to deliver the news. If the client’s really set on a lousy idea, try, “That’s a great idea.  Unfortunately I just don’t think it’s appropriate for this event because _______.  Believe me, I’d love to say we can do it, but it’s my professional responsibility to advise you why I don’t think it’s going to work. The last thing I want is for you to come to me afterwards and say, You’re the professional; why didn’t you warn me about this?! So this is me, officially warning you that I don’t think this will work.” 

It’ll be difficult, no question. But they will respect you more as an expert, and you will become indispensible to them.  And that, ultimately, is what you want.

Howard Givner is an event industry business strategist and growth consultant who currently is Executive Director and Founder of the Event Leadership Institute.

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