Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Pursuit of Excellence? Hire Artists

I just finished reading Tom Peters' latest book: The Little Big Things. It’s full of quippy gems about how to improve business.

Years ago, Tom had a mantra that went like this: Want to drive excellence? “Hire freaks.”

I couldn’t help wanting to update that when I came across this powerful story from QLab. Chris Ashworth, CEO at QLab, gushed about his latest discovery. It led his entertainment app company to excellence: Hire artists.

When Ashworth hired LuckyDave, a video artist, into the firm, things started to click. The help desk closed gaping time-to-first-response lags. That support improved usability and generated positive word of mouth. Sales rocketed. Happy story.

The trick was in letting LuckyDave work around his life as an artist. Chris Ashworth understood that the art’s the thing for LuckyDave. Not the software job, however cool. So rather than make LuckyDave a servant of two masters, he let Dave customize his job to make it possible to earn a decent living and not compromise his art.

Then, LuckyDave got a job offer. A financial services company dangled $80,000 annual salary in front of the artist. Would he bite? Ashworth held his breath. There is no way he’d compete with that kind of $$$$.

LuckyDave passed. He’s happy at QLab. He loves his boss for understanding the needs of an artist. Loves that he’s pushing the upstart toward big success. As for passing on the big money?

Chris explained it this way: “Well, pretty crazy if you just focus on the money. But for many (all?) of the best people in the world, money stops mattering once you have enough to not worry about it.”

And so, to Tom Peters and all the other management gurus out there…welcome to the RenGen. The renaissance generation is here. It’s a rising swath of creative, can-do people who want to make a difference. If you can make room for these exciting talents in your work culture, I predict you’ll re-create Ashworth’s competitive advantage.

The mantra for excellence in the coming years isn’t “hire freaks.” It’s “hire artists.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Education Needs a Communications Overhaul

Some conservatives are saying it's time to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). It's a sign that the public may not understand the Department's role. That's a shame, but understandable. For the last three decades, people in education have been focused on talking to each other. In a frenetic attempt to outsmart each other, the conversation has gotten so wonky, so down right impenetrable for the average citizen that people are clueless about what the DOE actually does. This is dangerous for Arne Duncan, who is making some head way with programs such as Race to the Top. If the DOE goes under attack, there'll be no movement of impassioned voters who'll rise up to defend it.

It's a prime example of what a failure to communicate causes. In a knowledge economy, can a failure to communicate get you sacked? It should. On the bright side, there are some rising leaders in education ready to speak plain English about what it takes to improve schools in America. 

Read the full post over at The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's Your Art Worth?

I used to love Polaroids. Back in 2008, I was very upset at the news that the company was going to stop manufacturing film indefinitely. Sure enough, it was impossible to find within the year. Two years later, the dissolution of the company is still not complete. As part of their bankruptcy court order, more than 1,000 photographs from Polaroid's corporate collection have been auctioned off at Sotheby's in New York City.

The two-day auction included images by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Andy Warhol and Lucas Samaras, among others. Some were Polaroids, some were not. But almost  all of them either met or surpassed their top pre-sale estimates. By mid-day yesterday, both Adams and Samaras had shattered personal auction records, selling their works for $722,500 and $194,500, respectively.

Problem is, many of the featured artists are upset about the auction. A number of them went so far as to write letters to the bankruptcy judge, to no avail. They were told that they should have gotten their work out before Polaroid went under. But many artists say they weren't aware it was happening. Some are still trying to negotiate for their works. Nevermind the fact that they can make a pretty penny. They'd say ownership of their art is worth the fight.

So what's a picture worth? A bunch of money? A legal tug of war? We've all heard the adage. Considering the hoopla this auction is creating, I'd say 1000 words sounds about right to me.

--Mo Hickey

Monday, June 21, 2010

BP Sticks With Arts Sponsorship

BP isn't budging on its commitment to Britain's art scene. For decades, BP has been a sponsor of the arts. While the brand is mired in sludge from the Gulf disaster, BP knows better than to back out of its arts sponsorship. Why? Because company executives need the love. 

Back in the 1980s, BP researched cultural consumers to discover how its arts sponsorships stacked up compared to other marketing investments. What they found shocked them:

1. Cultural consumers were more loyal to the BP brand.
2. The investments were a great value--tuppence on the pound compared to sports sponsorships, for example.

According to a company spokesperson, BP invests the equivalent of $1.5 million U.S. annually in its arts sponsorships. It's a bargain. In return they've earned the loyalty of an influential consumer group.

With their billions now committed to the U.S. clean up, it makes me wonder if they will extend the arts sponsorship effort world wide, slowly and subtly, in an effort to brighten the company's image. Face it, the whole "green" branding thing is dead as a pelican.

Friday, June 18, 2010

When Your Client Wins A Tony

I'm jumping for joy. Last weekend, our client the 5th Avenue Theatre walked home with an arm load of Tony Awards.  Located in Seattle, the 5th Avenue is a trail blazer. It helped launch Hair Spray the musical. This year, it was  "Memphis", winner for Best Musical.

I watched the Tony Awards last weekend. But I didn't realize my client was one of the producing theatres in the mob of collaborators that flooded the stage for the Best Musical award. When I got the news from Bernie Griffin (foreground) that they'd won, it reminded me just how talented she is. Bernie's a force of nature. Among other things, she brokers relationships between sponsors and the 5th Avenue Theatre.

Some people walk into a job, look around, and start doing what they've always done. Not Bernie. She's always pioneering. Who else could convince a corporation to double its investment in theatre by raiding its sacred sports marketing budget? I feel honored to have helped her with her sponsorship strategy.

Bravo 5th Avenue Theatre!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Top Ten Most Authentic American Brands

Authenticity is a big deal in consumer culture. The more virtual our lives get, the more real we want the basics to be. It's part of what's driving the street food revolution, among other trends. So where do the big brands fit in? Why not ask a group of Chief Marketing Officers. A recent survey of the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) resulted in this list:

  • Apple
  • Campbell's Soup
  • Caterpillar
  • Coca-Cola
  • Harley-Davidson
  • Jim Beam
  • Levi Strauss
  • Maker's Mark
  • Patagonia
  • Pepsi

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Solving the Mystery of How Sponsors Calculate Value

Many sponsors are still in cost-cutting mode. If you are seeking a sponsor in this market, be prepared to demonstrate return on investment. How? There are many ways to tackle the calculation. But the best way is to know what you are doing to drive sales for the sponsor. 

This week, Marketing Sherpa shared a blow-by-blow description of a sponsor's cost-cutting strategy. I share it in some detail so you can follow the logic of how ROI was discovered, and how the sponsor used it in fee negotiations with sponsees.


In 2009, Thomas VanHorn, CMO, Application Security, got word that his budget and staff were being reduced by about 40%. With less money to spend, VanHorn and his team needed to discover which programs were really contributing to the company’s sales. And with fewer staff members and outside help to perform early-stage lead development and qualification, they needed to automate as much of their processes as possible.

Here are some tactics they used to perform their analysis and adjust their marketing strategy:

Tactic #1. Measure each channel’s cost-per-lead

The team had a system in place that tracked the originating source of each lead in their database. They then compared how much they spent in each channel to the number of leads the channels originated. This calculation determined a basic cost per lead. 

Immediately, they saw that some channels were costing the team $100 per lead and more, while others were only costing them $4 to $5 per lead. 

Tactic #2. Measure the value of opportunities created by each channel

A basic cost-per-lead analysis didn’t factor in lead quality. So the team conducted further analysis to determine the dollar value of the sales opportunities created by each channel. 

- Working in their marketing automation system, they traced each opportunity back to its initial lead source, mapping every marketing touch along the way. 

- Then, they took the dollar value of the opportunity and divided it equally among each marketing channel with which the lead had interacted before becoming an opportunity. 

For example, if an opportunity was worth $X, and the lead had engaged in 10 specific activities -- such as a downloading a whitepaper, attending a webinar, etc. -- each of those activities received one tenth of $X. 

Although imperfect, the analysis gave the team insight into how each marketing program was contributing to closed deals. 

"When we checked the dollar volume of opportunities created we found no correlation to the cost-per-lead of the program," says VanHorn. "In fact, some of those [higher cost tactics] resulted in the lowest contribution to pipeline."

Tactic #3. Dial back on high-cost activities

Once the team could see how much they were paying for leads from specific programs, they made decisions on what they could -- and could not -- afford to do. 

For example, they saw that major trade shows and other large events were generating some of the highest-cost leads, which also took the longest to become opportunities. So VanHorn and his team reduced their participation in major events. 

They did not eliminate events entirely. Instead, they looked for more opportunities at smaller, local events. They also maintained a presence at a few major industry trade shows, but changed their objectives for those activities. 

Rather than viewing the trade shows as a strong lead generation opportunity, they approached them as ways to build brand awareness and buzz. They also used the events to meet with partners and existing customers -- recording those contacts in the marketing automation and CRM system, so the channel would get attributed a portion of any future revenue from that customer. 

Tactic #4. Expand use of low-cost activities

Limiting activities with a high cost-per-lead allowed the team to increase use of channels that delivered lower-cost leads. Here are a few examples of activities they created or expanded:

- Informal email updates

The team wanted to expand its use of email messages that revealed the personality of the company, and positioned it as a trusted advisor. So VanHorn created an informal email program to send a quarterly update to a large list of prospects. 

The messages were personalized with VanHorn’s signature, and did not contain sales pitches. Instead, they offered insights into important database security issues, alongside a touch of entertainment. For example, a message sent early in 2010 contained a belated "Happy New Year" message and links to two company web video projects (more on those below).

- Email drip nurturing

The team also expanded its use of automated drip nurturing for prospects that downloaded content from the website. 

- Thought-leadership oriented virtual events

They began hosting more virtual events that were not product or sales-oriented. For example, when a researcher discovered a vulnerability in a particular type of database software, VanHorn’s team worked with the company’s technical experts to develop a free fix for the problem, and then hosted a free webinar to explain how to implement the solution. 

Tactic #5. Use CPL benchmarks to negotiate sponsorships and other paid marketing efforts

Thanks to the team’s cost-per-lead analysis, they were able to determine optimum CPL for various programs. Then, they used their optimum CPL to set limits and get guarantees from vendors for sponsorship or other paid-media campaigns. 

For example, when the team set a limit on its cost-per-lead for a whitepaper hosting deal that was significantly lower than the vendor’s offer, the vendor responded with several new options to guarantee a number of leads at a cost that would meet the team’s goal. 

"They made opportunities available to me that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about," says VanHorn. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sponsorship Posts Move to Wednesday for Summer

For those devoted fans of Sponsorship Monday, first of all we want to thank you. You are a loyal bunch of eager learners.  We love you. This is to let you know that we are adopting a summer schedule. Mo, our editrix is on a lean-mean bike team. As a weekend warrior, she's often making her way back to town on Mondays after a two days of cycling in the wilds of Wisconsin and thereabouts.

As for me, I'm spending my weekends pounding away on my next book, wishing I were Mo. Summer in the Midwest is brief. Too brief. Alas, it's time adjust and wring the most out of these fleeting sunny days.

We appreciate your loyalty AND your patience. Let's see how it goes. Comments are welcome.

Here's hoping you have a terrific summer.
Patricia Martin

photo thanks to Mr. Chenko

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Innovation and Launching Balloons to Solve Problems

Long time no blog. I took an intentional break.  On the advice of a colleague, I tied a balloon to a vexing problem and let it drift away. Then I looked around and noticed what other problems remained. Turns out there were a few. But they were smaller and easily conquered.

Here’s how I constructed my balloon launch:
I opened the day with a long walk. I intentionally set the problem aside so I could focus all my senses on the woods. The mossy aroma rising from the forest floor, the knotted vines that weave the trees together, the doe poised to take me in—it all swirled around me. And then I considered the problem. I asked out loud, in the middle of the woods: What should I do about this? Then I imagined myself tying the problem to a balloon and sending it aloft. 

I spent the rest of the day tackling smaller problems. Concrete tasks, handily mastered. In the evening, I went out to a ball game. I sat in the cheap seats, looking out at the twilight sky, imagining my balloon floating out there in the darkening night. 

By morning, the key to the solution came to me by way of an email from a friend. Completely out of the blue. He was sending me a case study from an innovative project he’d encountered. It held the clue. Presto!

I love solving problems. But I hate when the endless grinding ruins an otherwise perfect day. As Winifred Gallagher argues so brilliantly in her book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, our ability to focus on one thing and suppress another is the key to how we experience life. By choosing what we pay attention to, we control how our lives feel minute by minute. 

This economy is rife with urgent problems. But perhaps the best way to address them is to let go. This creates space for something new, fresh and completely unexpected to drop in. 

Works for me! 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Leave Your Ego At the Door: How To Pitch Without Fear of Rejection

Rejection is painful. That’s why so few people can handle sales jobs. Once the fear of rejection sets in, the mere idea of pitching can make a person feel downright queasy.  But what if you stopped caring about the outcome and just looked at each pitch or proposal as a simple gesture? Would it improve your results? Melissa Lagowski thinks it would.

Every year, Melissa reaches out to over 100 brand managers to solicit their interest in sponsoring Ribfest Chicago. This outdoor grill fest features live music and family events during the day. At night it becomes an alternative music rampage. Since its start in a tiny parking lot, the event has mushroomed into existence as one of Chicago’s major festivals--thanks in part to the sponsors who fork over between $10K and $25K to have a presence at it.

How did Melissa do it? She rewired her gag reflex. She sends out teasers a year in advance. No bites? She sends out edited highlights of her sponsorship report to new prospects, showing what sponsors get for their money. That’s followed by a t-shirt with a handwritten note.  Cold calls, meetings and proposals may be down the line. They may not happen at all the first year. But if Melissa thinks she can deliver something wonderful for a certain brand, she stays on it. 

This year, Swiss Army Knife and Honda signed on as the official cutlery and car of Chicago Rib Fest, respectively. It took Melissa years to land them. She just kept at it. It took guts to weather withering silence, even flat-out rejection. But eventually she broke through.

We can all learn something from Melissa. We steel our egos from the brutality of rejection by moving on. But if we stop to consider that all we are doing is reaching out—extending a gesture—perhaps we’d be more effective.  Face it: advertising—and that means sponsorship—is changing.

This weekend, I’ll sally over to Ribfest. I hope to snag Melissa for an interview and learn more about her RX for sponsorship in an emerging culture. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What Will Happen To Me When I Stop Making Lunch?

I can’t think of a family ritual more mundane and more emotionally charged than packing a child’s lunch. I’ve begun paying attention lately since my daughter will graduate from high school this week. This empties my nest. It also ends my tenure as a world-class lunch maker.

It wasn’t always so. Being an author and consultant put me on the road a lot, so their father shared the lunch making duties. The kids report to this day that he was a pragmatist, not an epicurean. Hence, my kids learned the art of negotiating. My son regails that he once learned to sell raw carrots in a swap for a candy bar--life skills made possible by his father’s food values.

This weekend, I lost myself to emotion in the peanut butter and jelly section of the grocery store.  Whose rite of passage is this anyway--my daughter’s or mine? I can’t be sure. But I am sure of one thing: lunch making is a ritual I’ll miss, and other mothers tell me the same. In a world rife with chaos, being able to deliver a simple concrete act of comfort—a well-balanced lunch—is golden. It surprises me that more packaged goods brands don’t seize the day around lunch making.

Who makes your lunch?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Sponsors Sold Us On the Space Race

American consumers needed to be sold on space. Sponsors made that process possible. Notables such as Douglas, Rocketdyne, Lockheed, Thiokol and Hughes were joined by more obscure brands such as Temco, American Latex, Marquardt, Ex-Cell-O and Radiation Inc. to promote the mysterious and expensive journey into the unknown. 

In her new book, Another Science Fiction, Megan Prelinger takes us on a visual treasure hunt to uncover the deeper meanings of the space-age campaigns that sold America a culture-changing idea: space, the final frontier.

All the sponsoring entities had much to gain if citizens could be sold through advertising. The aim was threefold: 1) To recruit the best and the brightest engineering and scientific talent; 2) To carve out a specialty in the complex array of space hardware production and stake the territory from competing subcontractors, and; 3) To send a message to NASA brass that they were helping them achieve what they could not—using overt marketing to win hearts and minds. 

The ad copy is robustly optimistic. “The Stafoam orbit is infinite! Your investigation may uncover an entirely new dimension. Write or call today!” 

Selling an idea for the unknown makes aspiration an art form. Better yet, it trains the American imagination to focus on specific things. 

In selling the new, the weird, the unknown or the ethereal, focus is critical. The alternative is chaos. In everything from powdered orange juice later marketed as Tang to no-fumble fasteners later known as Velcro—focus wins.