Positioning Crisis to Look Like a Clever Plan

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.”

If you’re like many direct marketing organizations, you don’t feel you have time to plan for crisis. As many of our long-time followers know, we do pro bono work for a performing arts organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The first weekend of December was to be the group’s annual Christmas Shows, and for the first time in its history, the entire region was iced in. Three out of four performances had to be cancelled—at the last minute. They have been rescheduled, but we focused on one thing at a time through the scheduling crisis.

With that fresh experience behind us—and the lessons we learned about how to successfully keep ticket cancellations and refunds to a minimum—we offer these 10 recommendations that, someday, you may need to use in a crisis:

  1. The Customer Comes First There will be anguish about cancelling a delivery, event and more. But the customer’s personal safety, expectations and experience must come first. They will remember how you handled a crisis for years.
  2. Present a Solution, Not a Problem Foster a culture in your organization so that no one drops a problem at your footsteps and doesn’t offer a solution. Encourage problem solving and solution offering. If you’re not all in the same physical location, get on the phone. Email and texts are a lousy way to encourage dynamic creativity and solve problems.
  3. Communicate Internally First. In crisis mode, it’s easy to think the customer must be notified first. Our experience: internal decisions must be communicated to everyone inside the organization first because there will be those on your staff who are posting on Facebook or Twitter. They’re intent is good, they want to help. But if they have any detail wrong, it can confuse and damage your reputation.
  4. Be Transparent and Truthful. Your customers, patrons and donors deserve the unvarnished truth. In our case, the reason for cancellation was obvious. But customers deserve to know that you’re working on solutions. Tell them what you’re doing through social media and via email.
  5. Empower One Individual to Push the Messaging Buttons. This isn’t to say that others shouldn’t help implement the plan. The point is that one person calls the messaging shots and gives direction so your organization (including the top) speaks with one voice.
  6. Update Your Website Minute to Minute. Watch your analytics reports and you’ll see quite quickly that your customers will look at your website first. Have it update-to-date by the minute. Use in-your-face graphics, in a prime location on the home page, with your announcement.
  7. Mobilize Communications Immediately. In the old days, we would have done our best to make thousands of phone calls. Thankfully today, email and social media can get out the word quickly. Email segmentation allowed us to pinpoint exactly which patrons were directly impacted, and they were sent an email (without distracting thousands who are on the email list but not affected).
  8. Constantly Monitor Social Media. Social media announcements of this magnitude spread in minutes. If you have staff or volunteers, tell them exactly what you should say. Often your customer wants to help you and spread your message for you. Give them the information. Then monitor comments so you can answer questions and clarify misinformation.
  9. Enhance Your Product Once Delivered. Most likely your product is, well, your product. It can’t be changed. But you can include a gift or bonus for the inconvenience. Or make light of the situation through messaging and give your customers an even better experience.
  10. Stay Calm and Carry On. The best compliment you can receive after the worst is behind you is, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.” How do you build successful teams? Foster an encouraging, solution-driven culture. And don’t permit your organization to become paralyzed in the decision-making process.

Hopefully you’ll never have to manage a crisis. We don’t want to have to ever do this again.

If you’re curious about how the messaging was handled for this organization, you can read the details here through the end of December.

Manage Your Team, and Answer Important Questions While You Travel

Did you realize that you have a way to communicate with your team right in your back pocket? True or False: Only wealthy companies use video and film production? Statement: It’s impossible to be two places at once. Did you realize that even while you’re traveling you could answer questions, and keep your team informed? If you travel heavily for your company and are an executive or leader, this article will help you by offering some new communication solutions

Did you realize that you have a way to communicate with your team right in your back pocket? True or False: Only wealthy companies use video and film production? Statement: It’s impossible to be two places at once. Did you realize that even while you’re traveling you could answer questions, and keep your team informed? If you travel heavily for your company and are an executive or leader, this article will help you by offering some new communication solutions.

The types of video production companies use now vary considerably. Anything from sales presentations, corporate communications, customer service, tutorials and internal communications are media treasures.

These types of videos can be there to serve both the client and your employees. The other forms of video production include staff training, employee orientation, safety procedures, promotional video and financial reports. The key point to remember here is they can be viewed on several different devices—iPad, computer, and, of course, mobile phone.

Video can be used as a heavy-duty communication machine even while you’re traveling the tundra. Utilizing video platforms like Skype, Livestream and Google+ Hangouts will put you in front of your employees so you can continue to disperse your companies propaganda, even while miles away. This allows your employees to be not only informed, but to have an emotional connection to you as if you are still present, even when absent.

Some types of video production can cost next to nothing to create. For example, Instagram, Vine, Skype, Facetime and Google + Hangouts. These are simple to use and can be viewed individually or as a group; which allows you to continue to lead your team even if it’s in a busy airport. These platforms give you the ability to promulgate to a tailored crowd. You can choose to speak to one person, several or the entire staff.

The other benefit here is that you can be in several places at once. I bet you wish you could clone yourself so that you can be everywhere at the same time. With telegenic devices, you are able to be in multiple locations, which can save you time and money.

HR Professionals are finding these assets invaluable to effectively inform their troops and train their employees on important factors such as safety, company policies and procedures. The same message is given each time to each individual, allowing more control over the communiqué distributed among the new and existing hires.

While any of these types of television programs would be effective and work, here are some more advanced ideas for the use of video in communicating to your present crowd. Use a thumbnail video in your email signature. This could be a general message from the CEO, President or possibly an HR Supervisor.

One of the best devices that I’ve seen this used with is a USB stick. Placing your corporate mini movie on this type of device is sure to get people interested in what’s on it. We can’t help but be curious when a gadget is in the palm of our hands.

What’s the best way to get started by utilizing these simulcast luxuries? This would be some solid hypothesis; Ask the people that have the most questions directed to them at your company. Have them write up to 10 topics that these videos could address. Do this with the answers to those questions, and Voila!, you have a script created for your first production.

Next, decide who will be your audience. Directly address them individually or within the group. Make the dialogue interesting, as if you were right there in the same room—because technically you are.

Then decide what the best way to distribute this message should be. Should it be Live? Do you want to ensure that they will see it? Do you want this to be measurable and traceable? Consider the style as well. Do you want it to be comical, motivational or serious in nature? A financial report to your stock holders may need to be handled with kid gloves, while a safety video that is going to be viewed by the group and needs to be remembered, and comedy can often be more memorable, even on serious subjects.

I hope that this discussion has sparked a few new ways for you to interface with your peers. If anything, perhaps it’s helped answer the question of how can you communicate with the team while abroad? Either way, I’m sure you will remember that the use of video isn’t always obvious but still effective.

Any further discussion or ideas to be added can be sent to me at egrey@hermanadvertising.com.

The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown

For years, I was a brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections, meet new colleagues or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website. But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements”

For years, I was brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections (changing jobs, getting promotions), meet new colleagues (either through a mutual connection or using my LinkedIn credits) or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

I carefully built my profile and reached out to clients and colleagues for recommendations, smugly building it to over 700 connections. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website.

But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements.”

On the surface it seems simple enough. You choose a series of “skills” and areas of “expertise” from a long list (or create them yourself).

Connected to somebody on LinkedIn? That must mean you know them and are fully aware of their skills, so you have the experience to give them a nod on a skill they’ve identified in their profile when presented with that question.

The problem is that all sorts of people have now endorsed me—some are people I barely know, and, to be honest, many have endorsed me for skills they couldn’t possibly know whether I have or not.

Out of 700-plus connections, 68 have endorsed me for direct marketing. Fair enough … I run a direct marketing agency and have worked in the business for 30-plus years, so it’s pretty safe to say I have DM skills. But it seems strange to me that a sales rep for a printer (who I have no memory of ever meeting) or my personal realtor neighbor, would endorse me for this skill.

I realize that when I look at someone’s profile, a little box pops up asking me if that individual has the skills or expertise they selected … and I could just skip by and ignore the whole thing. But that’s not my point.

My question is: Does having 68 endorsements for a skill make me more of an expert than, say, the guy who only has 12 endorsements for that same skill?

To answer this question, I clicked on the “Skills & Expertise” section of LinkedIn (found within the “More” drop down menu). I typed in “direct marketing,” and the first “expert” who popped up, Bill Glazer, had only 9 endorsements for direct marketing. In fact, after reading his profile, I’d say that Direct Marketing is not his area of expertise (although he has plenty of marketing expertise).

The second guy, Bob Bly, had 99-plus endorsements for Direct Marketing … (I know Bob and he deserves 99-plus endorsements). The third guy had 44 folks endorsing him, and the fourth guy has 58 endorsements, so the algorithm can’t use the number of endorsements as its only search criteria. In fact, after peering into the top 15 folks LinkedIn suggested as having direct marketing skills, I have to wonder about the usefulness of this search tool as the skill sets of these folks were all over the map.

So I have to ask LinkedIn: What’s the point of the endorsement tool? If it’s not being used to rank order skills for those who are searching for that kind of help/expertise, then why offer it? And, if any of your connections can endorse you for a skill, doesn’t that make the idea of endorsements disingenuous?

Marketing Interns—The Uncle Sam Scam

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college Junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.

So he was stunned when he discovered this week that there was NOT a full-time position available to him this summer. Instead, he was offered a part-time, minimum wage position with, again, the promise of potential full-time employment at the end of the summer.

When he pushed back and suggested that his long hours last summer meant he had already been “trained” and could hit the ground running and therefore it might entitle him to a little bit more than minimum wage, he was told that he should consider himself “lucky” to have the part-time job offered to him when last year over 50 applicants applied for the open position. In other words, this organization has no strategy in place to hire, train, and groom future employees. Instead, they hide behind a summer internship as a way to get free labor for the summer, lower their overhead expenses and avoid paying Uncle Sam for payroll and other taxes.

While I realize my sons’ experience may be the exception, I was disgusted by this company’s behavior and wondered how many other organizations build and run internship programs properly (and with good intention)?

Internships are a way to give back to our youth—to help them take their text-book based learning and put it into action. And it’s a chance for us, as employers, to invest in the future of our business.

Thinking of leveraging an internship program for your business? Consider these 3 business rules:

1. Establish Clear Program Objectives
What does your company hope to gain by hiring an intern? If the answer is “free labor,” you’re on the wrong track. Program objectives might include:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to test their interest in <> before a permanent commitment is made.
  • To help students develop skills in the application of theory to practical work situations.
  • To help students adjust from college to full time employment through the acquisition of good work habits and a sense of responsibility.

2. Develop a Job Description
Just as you need to create job descriptions for any full- or part-time employee, interns need a job description in order to help you and the entire organization understand expectations. Since misaligned expectations often lead to conflict, it’s important to make sure your intern is set up for a successful experience. That means everyone needs to be on the same page as to the responsibilities of the position. (I’ve been part of an organization that used their interns as the “go-fer” and the interns spent their time scurrying back and forth to Starbucks … not exactly the marketing experience they expected when they were hired.)

3. Create Feedback Mechanisms
If you’re truly trying to help your interns have a positive learning experience, then you must provide them with feedback—and on a regular basis. Once they start, you need to train and keep training by encouraging questions (and lots of them), providing explicit instructions so they can get it right the first time, and by stepping back and delivering a bigger picture around the task at hand to help put it all into perspective.

Let me also add that you should never assume any kind of baseline office knowledge from your interns. We recently discovered that the youngest member of our staff (a 2012 marketing grad) didn’t know how to use several pieces of office equipment. It never occurred to us that making Xerox copies, sending a fax or adjusting a printer setting from “portrait” to “landscape” were skills we had gained through years of employment and were not a natural part of the knowledge base of a 22-year old!

And if you’re reading this, work for a company based in San Diego, are looking to hire a bright and determined college grad from a not-so-inexpensive UC school with heavy experience in teaching kids how to surf, just let me know. Oh, and it should include a paycheck.

Addressing the Skills Gap: 5 Reasons Why Year-End Giving Should Include a DMEF Donation

The uncertain domestic and global economy masks a glaring concern—one that goes to the root of sustainability in our discipline. In the direct, digital and database marketing fields, there is a tremendous shortage now of qualified professionals, and likely in the near and long term.

The demand [for talent] has far outstripped the supply.” – Joe Zawadzki, Chief Executive, MediaMath, The New York Times (Front Page, Oct. 31, 2011)

The uncertain domestic and global economy masks a glaring concern—one that goes to the root of sustainability in our discipline. In the direct, digital and database marketing fields, there is a tremendous shortage now of qualified professionals, and likely in the near and long term.

  1. In its seminal research report, From Stretched to Strengthened: Insights from the Global Chief Marketing Officer Study (October 2011), IBM states that an explosion of data, social platforms, channel and device choices, and shifting demographics all point to tremendous hurdles for CMOs [chief marketing officers] to overcome. IBM calls it “a gap in readiness.” The ability of higher institutions to provide global (and local) brands with people with skills necessary to capitalize on customer-centric interactions is vital.

  2. Another current report from McKinsey’s Global Institute, Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity (May 2011), states that the world needs as many as 190,000 specialists with deep analytical skills whose sole focus is Web marketing (never mind, analyzing data in multi-channel environments). These new professionals will need to be steeped in mathematics and statistics, as well as in marketing and the vertical markets where brands reside.

  3. During the 2010-2012 period, according to the Direct Marketing Association (The Power of Direct Marketing, October 2011), the U.S. economy is forecast to create more than 280,000 jobs from mobile, search, Internet and email marketing alone. It’s vital we are able to deliver and develop professionals in our field who have requisite knowledge and education.

  4. In a recent employment study for Direct Marketing Association (Quarterly Digital and Direct Marketing Employment Report, September 2011), undertaken by Jerry Bernhart Associates, employers noted that analytics-related posts are the most highly sought in our field, followed by marketing, sales, creative and information technology. Most recently, 61 percent of employer respondents said they were experiencing difficulty attracting the right talent for open positions, with 50 percent attributing this to a shortage of qualified candidates, and 18 percent to a lack of specific job or technical skills.

  5. The Direct Marketing Educational Foundation (DMEF) serves to address the skills gap by enabling its Scholarship program, Student Career Forums, intensive training in interactive marketing (I-MIX), its Professor’s Institute, among other activities, to make direct and interactive marketing one of the most highly attractive fields for young adults. During the past year, DMEF engaged 2,580 students, more than 270 professors, and 650 schools in its various programs. We stand ready to exceed our success this coming year—but we need your support to do it.

For these five reasons, I just sent my donation to DMEF for its year-end DirectWorks Challenge (an initiative where I serve as a consultant). I encourage every professional in our field to make a tax-deductible donation today—preferably before Dec. 31, with my thanks: www.directworks.org/contribute

It’s the one donation that keeps giving back to us as marketing professionals.