Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Content Without A Solid Strategy is Just "Stuff"

I've just been reading the April 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer magazine, and this month's editorial from editor, Joe Pulizzi, struck me as something important for agencies to consider when approaching clients or prospects.

His editorial references that wonderful George Carlin stand-up routine about "stuff".  We spend our lives collecting "stuff".  A house is a place to keep your "stuff" so you can go out and buy more "stuff".  We buy bigger houses so we can collect more "stuff".

I have had several clients ask me recently to help them develop content, but none of them had a formal (or even informal) strategy for that content.  They wanted to produce more content because they need fresh ideas and more "stuff".

As Joe discusses in his editorial, when the web came along, companies filled their website with "stuff".  And the thought was "the more stuff we can put on the website, the more chance we have to sell the stuff we have".

And before long, companies found new ways to talk about their stuff, through blogs, white papers, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.  They put out a lot of "stuff", without a clear plan on how to organize and use it to provide real information or value for their customers.  It's mostly about their "stuff" and why you should buy it.

Nine in 10 companies budget for and create content, but the majority have no documented strategy for why they are creating all that content stuff.

It seems to me that this is where agencies could provide a great service to clients.  If we can help them move away from creating, publishing and sharing for the sake of the stuff, and focus on content that supports their strategy, we can perform a real service.  To our clients,and to their customers.

We all know that good branding begins with a strategy.  Why in the world wouldn't we have a documented plan for creating content? If we can help our clients to plan and produce creative content that informs and entertains their target audience, and provides a real service to that audience, we can be heroes.

And maybe create a little less stuff in the process.

In case you don't remember that Geoge Carlin routine, here it is. I miss that guy.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Six Tips for Building a Better New Business Prospect List

Interestingly, I have gotten two calls in the past week from agencies asking for advice on prospecting.  Both are facing similar situations of being a smaller niche player within a larger organization, and were seeking advice on how to be more effective in their prospecting efforts.

I started by discussing a basic re-definition of the role agencies can play to differentiate themselves.  Many clients today are simply overwhelmed by the increasing complexity and fast pace of change.  They know they need to be doing more things like social media, mobile marketing, content marketing,  SEO/SEM, etc., but they need help in figuring out how to manage their marketing programs.  The winning agencies today are ones that can help their clients sort through and identify where to focus their efforts.  And then, give them the insights and solutions to build a bridge between their product or service and their customers.

The challenge many agencies face are to develop a prospect list to pursue.  In addition to the basics of understanding your strengths and weaknesses, here are six tips I gave to those agencies on how to develop that list:

1.  Focus on business categories to identify insights and work the category, not the individual company.  Insights don't just happen, they take work.  So my advice is to identify a category to pursue, and then work multiple clients within that category.  That way, you can scale the effort you make to understand issues, trends, and pain points within a category.

2.  Become known as a thought leader in the category you want to develop. I am a big believer in the power of white papers, but other tools like developing a blog on that topic and guest blogging are also helpful,  Try to establish a relationship with a trade publication or local newspaper columnist to write articles, or comment as an industry expert to gain some notoriety as a category expert.

3.  Get noticed - develop a research study and/or write a speech and present to business audiences.  A tried and true PR tactic has always been to develop a survey and then publish it to gain notice.  A few years ago, I developed a presentation on customer service and titled it "Seven Ways to Piss Off a Client".  I'm sure the unique focus of the title helped, but it was based on findings from a study I did on why clients fall out of love with their agency and eventually fire them.  Even though the speech was written specifically from an ad agency viewpoint, the principles held true for any service business, and I gave that speech to more than twenty-five ad clubs, but also to Kiwanis and other business associations around the South. 

4.  Get involved - volunteer for a leadership position in a marketing or local business association. 
A great way to add to your awareness as well as your expertise in a particular category is to get involved with local business clubs and associations.  When I moved to Seattle a few years ago, I did not know anyone in the business community.  Now, as president of the Puget Sound American Marketing Association, I am visible as a host for our events, write and edit the association blog, and am building awareness for me and my consulting company.  And, I'm getting calls for new business projects.

5.  Become an active participant on social media - LinkedIn groups are great for this.
  A great way to establish awareness and build a reputation for you and your company is to become an active participant in social media.  I write for two blogs, but I also comment regularly on other blogs.  I often start conversations on one of my LinkedIn groups, and always link to an article or blog post (not always my own, by the way).  A great way to build followers is to curate industry articles and post or re-tweet them.  My only caution here is to make sure you are providing legitimate information, and not just plugging yourself or your company.

6.  Re-purpose your speech or research content - Slideshare, LinkedIn, blog posts, commenting on other blogs.  Is great content really great if no one reads it?  Make sure they do by re-purposing as many ways as you can.  If you develop a presentation,you can take that same material and post it on Slideshare, link to a blog post. re-write as a white paper or Tweet with a link.  Be sure to use keywords in the title to improve your SEO, because anything that is published can be found by somebody at some point.  I still get comments and questions on pieces I wrote years ago.

Now go out there and get some new business!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Do You Know Enough About Our Client’s Business To Provide Insights And Solutions?

While sorting through and cleaning up some old files, I ran across this email that I sent to my staff a few years ago. The purpose was to inspire them to provide better service and better communications solutions to our clients. The thoughts in this memo are still truths for any advertising. public relations or marketing services agency, so I hope you can gain something from reading this.

Memo to Staff:

A few years ago, we drafted a statement of purpose for the agency. We said that our goal is to be an indispensable source of insights and communications solutions to help our clients meet their business objectives. In every new business presentation we make, that statement is displayed prominently and discussed at length. It’s something we use to set our agency apart from other agencies. And it does.

A quick review of other agencies around town reveals these statements of purpose for some of our chief competitors – “we create ideas for clients who believe in the power of inventive thinking”; “art that inspires action”, and “the critical stage agency” (whatever that means). I don’t mean to put down what other agencies say is their reason for being. But I do think our statement of purpose is more direct and more powerful in what it says about us to a client or prospect.

What we are saying is that we provide something to help our clients grow their business – insights and communications solutions. Webster defines insight as “the ability to see and understand clearly the inner nature of things”. Think about that. We’re promising to go beyond the obvious and find out something special about our clients and their business. To provide insight, we’ve got to truly understand our client’s business. And that leads me back to my original question. Do we know enough about our client’s business to provide insights and solutions?

According to a recent survey among senior-level client people, that’s the number one complaint clients have with their agency. In the survey by Citigate and GfK Custom Research, “C-suite” executives were asked to judge the agencies that handle their advertising, public relations and marketing services. The biggest gripe (voiced by 42% of respondents) was that the agencies “fail to demonstrate an understanding of their business.” That’s a pretty damning statistic! Almost half of the clients’ key decision makers think their agency doesn’t really understand their business. By the way, these same executives had other complaints about their agencies. Thirty-six percent said that agencies make them feel like they are “just another number” without giving them enough attention. Other common complaints: agencies are too expensive (33 percent), lack creativity (32 percent) and don’t provide the right staff (25 percent).

These are also important things to know about how clients feel about their agencies. But I really want us to focus on the “understanding their business” issue, because that is what can separate us from other agencies. 

I’ve always felt that the secret to building a strong client relationship is to live their business. During my career, I’ve ridden a Sunbeam bread truck at 3 a.m., worked out in a sweat room at Procter & Gamble to test Secret Anti-Perspirant, toured a NAPA brake plant, picked oranges for Florida’s Natural, worked in a Slim Jim slaughter house, and baked Papa John’s pizzas with the founder at 11 p.m., to name a few clients I’ve worked on. I have been on sales calls with a client’s field salesmen, and checked at least 1,000 stores to study distribution and shelf placement. I’m not bragging. It’s something I just felt I needed to do to understand as much as I could about the brand, the category, the competition, and the environment in which my clients did business.

And, to be truthful, much of the time I really hated it. But I did learn a lot about the client’s business from the ground up. And, more importantly, I gained a respect from the client that paid off when I made recommendations on their communications strategies. If I could gain some understanding (and insight) from my inside look at their business, I had the credibility because I had been there.

Now I’m not saying that everyone should run out and sell Lottery tickets at 7-11. Or work at a jewelry store. Or plow a 40-acre field. But we can all do something to gain a greater understanding (and insight) into our client’s business.

How many of us read the newspaper every day and study the advertising? How many of us sort through all of the direct mail we get at home to be on the lookout for competitive mailings. Or for any really creative ideas that we might be able to adapt for our clients. How many of us are using the Internet to stay on top of category and general marketing trends?

Every day, I get e-mail news alerts and RSS feeds from key trade publications, major bloggers, AMA, Marketing Profs, TrendCentral, Forrester, McKinsey, AAAA SmartBrief and NRF SmartBrief. I’ve usually not looking for anything special. I’m just looking to see if anything pops up that will make me smarter about our client’s business. Any one can be a mystery shopper for a client by visiting their store or one of their competitor’s stores.

 And I can tell you from experience that clients appreciate it when you pass along your observations. Even if they aren’t great new insights, it shows we are trying. And that we care about their business.

Do you know enough about our client’s business? Do you care enough to learn? I hope you do. I think it’s a big part of what makes our agency such a great place to be. And how we keep our clients!