Brand Statements: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say?

Right now even brands with messaging documents longer than most PhD dissertations are struggling to decide if and how to respond to current events. From COVID-19 to widespread protests tied to inequality, we’re seeing brands issue commentary on unexpected topics. Virtually all of my clients have asked about it, and it’s likely to keep coming up over time, so let’s answer the big question of the season — should we put out a statement?

The answer is not so easy. Yes, and maybe. It just depends who you’re talking to.

Addressing Issues Internally Is a Must

To build and maintain brand trust, employees have to be briefed. The internal audience always needs a statement. If you don’t know where to start, it’s absolutely acceptable to say that you don’t know what to say. Whoever delivers the message can also speak from their heart, referencing their own experiences or even talking about a personal commitment to examine biases.

What’s most important is that the message lets employees know their work environment is supportive. They need to know that if they’re experiencing anything — from instances of racism, to mental health concerns — they have options. Remind them who they can bring concerns to, and assure them that procedures are in place to protect and support them. One CEO I worked with recently even invited employees to share their concerns directly with her.

Sometimes these statements feel uncomfortable, but keeping silent internally is not an option. When it comes to making a public statement, it’s less cut and dried.

You Are Not Required to Make Public Statements

Scrolling through my inbox and social media feeds, it can look like every company is issuing a public statement. But of course you’re not seeing a list of everyone abstaining. Yes, the pressure is higher than usual, but there’s no need to rush.

Here’s the question I ask clients first: Is this in your DNA?

For some brands, a statement will feel like a regular extension of the brand. But if there’s no approach in place already, or it’s beyond the company’s comfort level, it’s better to say nothing than to say something and appear insincere.

If the decision is to keep quiet, now is a good time to consider if the approach will change in the future. Maybe you need or want to do a little genetic engineering to bring brand DNA into line with modern demands.

And finally, don’t forget that any content you do put out is going to be viewed in the context of recent events, which could mean it’s ignored or misinterpreted. I encourage my clients to trust their guts. If your gut tells you it’s just not the right time to put out certain content, pull it.

How the Impact of COVID-19 Is Changing Marketing

Well, it’s not as if we can start 2020 all over again — we’re already halfway through this year thus far. Yet, we can say one thing, COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be hanging around awhile. How may this have changed marketing mid-year, and possibly changed it permanently?

Well, it’s not as if we can start 2020 all over again — we’re already halfway through this year thus far. Yet, we can say one thing: COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be hanging around awhile. How may this have changed marketing mid-year, and possibly changed it permanently?

Such prognostications have kept The Winterberry Group, a marketing research consultancy, plenty busy since March: reading the tea leaves of government data, industry interviews, marketing dashboards, econometric algorithms, and the like. Principal Bruce Biegel told a Direct Marketing Club of New York audience this past week that indeed June has been better than May, which was better than April — when the U.S. (and much of the global) economy was in free fall.

So what’s underway and what’s in store for us midyear? Have we turned a corner?

Our Comeback Will Not Be a U-Turn — ‘Swoosh!’

When unemployment shoots up to 17.1%, and 40 million American jobs either furlough or disappear, there’s going to be a lag effect. The “wallet” recession is upon us, as consumers hang onto their savings, or eat through them, so there’s not going to be the same level of demand that drives upward of two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

New York City is a COVID-19 epicenter — and the commercial real estate market may take five to 10 years to recover, reports The Economist (subscription required). Knowledge workers will return, eventually. But densely populated urban centers, where innovations accelerate the economy, may look and feel different for some time, and that in and of itself could hamper national and global growth. Can other innovation clusters stave off the virus to protect collaboration?

And then there’s our world of advertising. Biegel sees digital being a “winner,” as traditional media continues to take a drubbing. Linear TV spending dropped by a quarter this quarter, and direct mail by half. Experiential and sponsorship spending has been slashed by 75%, as concerts, live sports, conferences, and festivals all took a public health-ordered hiatus. Yet, even in digital categories, Q2 has yelled “ouch.”

Email is the only channel to have held its own, though pricing pressure has cut margins. Social, search, and digital display all have posted drops from 25% to 40% during the quarter — and though all our eyes were home watching Disney+, Netflix, and the like, even OTT/addressable TV ad spending was down by 5%. With the Newfronts coming this week, it will be interesting to see what types of digital media may post gains.

So if June’s “recovery” in media spend is any indication, Q3 (sans Olympics) and Q4 (yes, we’re still having an Election, last time I checked) should be solid though not buoyant. Biegel says it may be a “swoosh” recovery — think Nike’s logo — down fast, but up again slowly, steadily and resiliently. Which begs the questions: Can ad businesses, business models, and brands cope with a new reality?

The “new normal” is about coming out of the COVID-19 crisis — and half of executives surveyed by The Winterberry Group aren’t expecting miracles:

Medium-Term Budget Cuts

IAB-Winterberry Group State of Data (2020)

 Q3 Will Start a Recovery … of Sorts

Source: Advertiser Perceptions, Pivotal Research Group (2020), as reported by Winterberry Group

And, Biegel reported, that it may indeed take to 2024 — with COVID-19 firmly in a rear view mirror — for a recovery to be complete, according to IPG Mediabrands Magna. It is predicting a 4.4% ad spend contraction this year, a 4% recovery next year, and “subdued” results thereafter until mid-decade.

So How Have We Changed — and Will These New Behaviors Stick?

Some effects, though, may indeed have permanence in how Americans consume media — perhaps hastening trends already underway, or creating a whole rethink of how we act as consumers. Consider these impacts:

  • Streaming to TVs more than doubled during COVID-19 crisis. Have we rewired our video consumption habits away from scheduled programming for good?
  • Mobile data traffic surged 380% in March alone. Consumers have taken to their smartphones everywhere — so how has mobile viewing altered consumer’s screen habits across devices, and will it stick?
  • DTC brands and catalogs know all about remote selling — and so do millions of consumers who have now come to love shopping this way.
  • Video game use is up 60% — opening the door to more in-game advertising opportunities. This may change the mix of brands seeking to engage consumers there.
  • In January there were 280,000 posted job openings in data analytics. There are 21,000 today. More than half of marketers expect predictive modeling and segmentation to occupy their marketing strategy concerns for the balance of 2020.
  • Tangible value matters. Consumers will be demanding more pricing benefits from brand loyalty, and less VIP experiences. We may be getting tired of lockdowns but we are steadfast in a recession, savings conscious mindset.
  • Business travel – yes, your clients may be returning to the office, but do they really want to see YOU? What can B2B marketers and sellers achieve virtually?

It’s ironic, Biegel said, that privacy laws and the crumbling cookie are making customer recognition harder in the addressable media ecosystem, just as consumers expect and demand to be recognized. Identity resolution platforms will evolve to cope with these new marketplace realities — both of which are independent of COVID-19 – but the solutions will bring forth a blend of technologies, processes, and people yet to be fully formulated. These are still open and important marketplace issues.

So assuming we’re healthful health-wise, we have some challenges ahead in ad land. I’m glad to have some guideposts in this unprecedented time.

Money Talks: It’s Past Time That Marketers Reconsider Reward-Based Promotions

Recently, Bill Warshauer provided Target Marketing readers with a timely reminder of the efficacy of reward-based promotions and their utility in replacing discounts in the promotional mix. Now let’s take it a step further with some modeling.

Recently, Bill Warshauer provided Target Marketing readers with a timely reminder of the efficacy of reward-based promotions and their utility in replacing discounts in the promotional mix.

Extremely interested, I commented and a somewhat updated summary follows:

It is past time that marketers reconsider reward-based promotions.

Let me give you one simple case history.

Some years ago, a client, a leading bank, found that they were sending pre-approved but unrequested credit cards to customers and were getting unacceptably few people “deblocking” or “activating” their cards despite a regular monthly conversion series urging them with various incentives like no annual charges for one year, to accept and use the new cards. The low conversion rate, plus the costs of up to six efforts per prospect with no revenue, were at least discouraging.

When we were asked for help, we proposed turning this system on its head. Our objective was simple: incentivize card recipients to use their new cards immediately instead of allowing the costly slow drip from promotions over months: make them, as mafia lore says, an offer they couldn’t afford to refuse but we could afford to make.

To do this we designed an elaborate mailing to be sent without fail, the day after the card, rehearsing all the card holder benefits but telling the prospect there was another “secret” benefit which could only be had by calling a special toll-free number.

Having determined in advance, the allowable cost per active card, we knew that we could afford to offer $50 per active card user. The caller was not to be asked to “deblock” or “activate” their card (unnecessarily bureaucratic words in our view) but rather, “May we credit your card account with a $50 gift you can spend right away when you use your card within the next five days?” (We also tested $20, $30, and $40 as alternatives to determine the most profitable offer.)

Want to know which was best? Ask me.

While the cost of the mailing package nearly got us fired, the results turned client fury into joy. We achieved the client’s objective of conversion, even after consideration of the cost of the reward, at a cost-per-conversion of less than half of what the client had been spending. And it was right away, a significant cash advantage.

Not exactly the proverbial rocket science, is it?

I had drilled into me over the years by the iconic Dick Benson and by others that Rule No. 1 of what was then called direct marketing was:

It doesn’t matter a damn how much you spend in marketing money so long as in the end, the unit cost of achieving your order gives you the pre-determined profit you desire, or more!

Why many marketers have the least trouble getting their minds around this is a total mystery to me. It should be hardwired into them.

However, taking advantage of the isolation of the pandemic, it seemed worthwhile to have another go at trying to explain it and providing those readers who are interested, with the tools to build a simple model to help them calculate it for themselves.

Using the activation of distributed credit cards as an example, let’s assume that the bank has determined it can afford to spend a maximum of $87.50 to generate each active credit card. In arriving at that assessment of the “allowable,” the bank has determined that it wishes to achieve a profit of a similar $87.50. And to make certain that their marketing geniuses won’t forget the need for that profit, the bank’s managers have made believe the profit is a “cost” and reserved it so the marketing guys cannot get their mitts on it.

Now, if the actual cost of generating the activation is exactly the $87.50 allowable, the profit will still be there. And if, due to the marketing team’s genius (or luck, or a combination of the two), the activation costs less than the allowable, the difference will go right to the bottom line and the applause will be deafening.

Let’s look at this starting with the knowns:

Determining the allowable figure 1For this hypothetical example, let’s accept that the historic active card revenue is $350 and that operating the card system and covering general and administrative costs is 50% of this revenue. Now let’s reserve an additional 25% ($87.50) for profit before determining how much we can spend for marketing.

As you can see, that leaves us with $87.50 which we can afford to obtain an activated card user and make a 25% profit. Put another way, if we spend exactly $87.50 for marketing including the cost of any incentive, then we will make the mandated 25% profit. Spend more and we will make less profit or even have a loss; spend less and the saving against the $87.50 allowable will add to the profit.

Now the fun starts.

What we wish to project is how much our response needs to increase from a non-incentivized baseline to justify the incremental cost of each level of incentive. Let’s assume that including the variable cost of converting the incoming telephone calls, the per-thousand marketing cost is $1,500. Before adding the cost of any incentive, the baseline at different response levels looks like this.

Non-incentivized cost per activated card, figure 2
Note that the white outlined cells are inputs and the shaded cells are driven by formulae. In working with the model, this allows you to play “what ifs?” and input your own assumptions, for example, different percentage responses or cost per thousand.

As you can plainly see, only the cost of a 1% response exceeds the $87.50 allowable and eats into the reserved profit. At 2%, the cost is $75 which means that the bottom line is the $87.50 allowable plus the $87.50 reserved profit objective, less the $75 cost per response, for a total contribution of $100 or 35% of revenue, a comfortable ROMI of 1.33.

But as aggressive marketers, we want more responses and profit. And we are prepared to offer an incentive of $20 to achieve that. Our question must be: How much does the addition of this incentive have to increase the percentage return to justify the additional $20 (or some other number you choose)?

To find the answer to this and provide a tool for answering other questions with different inputs, we built this model. It references the ACPO model above and matrixes the calculated cost of a given response percentage with the addition of the incentive.

Actual Cost, Figure 3To this has been added a table which permits us to input any combination of response rate and incentive and generate how much additional percentage response would be required to justify using the specified incentive, in the case of this example a $30 cash promise.

Incentive Justification, Figure 4
To help you should you care to build your own model, the equations which drive it are explained below the numbers.

As you’ll see, to justify the $30 incentive, response must rise by 0.86% from 2.0% to 2.86%. Any increase greater than 0.86% would make the use of the $30 incentive a winner.

There is no question that money talks. We just need to understand the language.

Any interested reader who wishes to have a copy of this Excel model, email with “Model Please” in the subject line.

A Look at Marketing Spend Recalibrated: Where Are the Green Shoots?

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so? Firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some parts of The Winterberry Group’s Annual Outlook report as COVID19 took hold, citing various sources — and the updated data is worth a look.

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so?

That’s where we turn to The Winterberry Group which tracks data, digital, and direct marketing spend vs. general advertising, and releases its Annual Outlook each year in January. As COVID19 took hold, firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some of its numbers, citing various sources — and they are worth a look:

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Green Shoots in Media

Hey, I see a green shoot here. In digital, while display, search, and social are taking the greatest hits, digital video’s loss is less pronounced — and we might guess why. Consumers are consuming digital media in record numbers. In fact, OTT (connected TV) and podcast ad spend is out of sync with the number of consumers migrating to these media, even before the pandemic took hold.

As reported in Digiday:

“According to Magna Global, OTT accounts for 29% of TV viewing but so far has only captured 3% of TV ad budgets. And as consumers increasingly flock to internet-connected TV devices, a wide range of players — from tech giants, to device sellers to TV networks and more — are building services to capture a share of the ad dollars that will inevitably flow into the OTT ecosystem.”

So if anything, advertisers may need to get their tech stacks ready to enable OTT and podcast engagement. But this is not a linear TV buy based on cost-per-thousand (CPM). This is an opportunity to personalize, target, and attribute on a 1:1 level.

Another green shoot: Email remains a staple. Again, as we stay at home, whether as consumers or as business people, it’s been email that is sustaining connections for many brands. So “flat spending” is a positive, even as price compression is underway.

Offline is not a pretty picture — right now.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

My last post sought to document U.S. Postal Service’s woes. I still believe direct mail is a brand differentiator, particularly right now — as I watch my own household pause from the sameness of screens, and take our “print” moment with each day’s incoming mail and catalogs. We’ve dog-eared pages, placed our DTC (direct to consumer) orders, and even some B2B purchases for home office supplies. (Thankfully, all but one of us are still working.)

Green Shoots in Verticals

The Winterberry Group also examined some primary verticals — which ones will lead our economic recovery?

One green shoot is identified as financial services. After the Great Recession (2008-2009), the financial sector — which prompted the Recession beginning with subprime mortgages — recapitalized and strengthened reserves. Banks had to do it, by law. As a result, they are better positioned to weather the pandemic storm; though there may be pressure to lend to less-than-stellar-credit customers, the Winterberry Group reports. We shall see. As of May 7, the NASDAQ had completely erased its 2020 year-to-date market loss.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

In the Media & Entertainment sector, live events are effectively gone — except where they can go virtual, but that’s hardly a dollar-for-dollar exchange. The good news is that media subscriptions (for on-demand media) are rapidly increasing, and ad-supported on-demand media also is increasing — pertinent to the aforementioned OTT discussion.

And another green shoot candidate, Healthcare & Pharma, is actually on neutral ground. Some trends, such as telemedicine, online prescription fulfillment, and anything COVID-related — are booming, but elective surgeries are on hold, and 33+ million laid-off Americans may wind up uninsured.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Ingenuity — The Greatest Green Shoot of All

And my last green shoot is this — our own innovation, agility, and creativity. I leave you with this one anecdote heard last week on National Public Radio.

Can you imagine being a member of the Graduating Class of 2020? These students will go down in history perhaps as a model of resiliency. Time will tell. But next door in North Salem, NY, the town and school system landed on a novel idea: The faculty, students and families will drive one hour north to a one of the state’s few remaining drive-in theaters. The commencement address will be projected — and the diplomas handed out vehicle by vehicle.

Who knows, maybe Summer 2020 will be the Great American Comeback of the drive-in theater. Maybe Bruce will need to update his out-of-home and cinematic spending accordingly. (You can learn more from Bruce at this upcoming June 17 Direct Marketing Club of New York virtual briefing on your laptop. Registration here.)

I love such ingenuity. If you know of other examples, please share them in the comments section. Stay safe — and keep America innovating.



The Art of the Virtual Pitch, Part 2: Prepping the Creative Brief and Getting to Work

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on The Art of the Virtual Pitch. Let’s cover what happens after you’ve accepted the RFP, and now need to develop your pitch without the benefit of in-person meetings. There are two guiding principles to live by when drafting a creative brief to get all members of your team ready.

This is Part 2 of a four-part series on The Art of the Virtual Pitch. In Part 1, I laid out some strategies to help you cut through all the virtual noise and stand out to potential clients. Now let’s cover what happens after you’ve accepted the RFP, and need to develop your pitch without the benefit of in-person meetings. There are two guiding principles to live by when drafting a creative brief to get all members of your team ready to brainstorm:

Principle No. 1: Invest Your Time in Organizing

Now that you don’t have the luxury to kick things off in person, it’s critical to have documents to keep people aligned. You need to spell out roles and responsibilities, and create a work plan with clear owners and assignments for each deliverable. You’ll also need a new way to handle onboarding a bunch of different folks.

Instead of picking up the phone again and again to launch into your onboarding spiel, devote your time to developing a robust creative brief. In one document, you lay out:

  • all the relevant research,
  • the problems you’re trying to solve,
  • the details of the RFP, and
  • anything else you don’t want to find yourself repeating ad nauseam.

This briefing document becomes the foundation for briefing people moving forward and gives you the landscape analysis you need to craft the insight that will be the jumping-off point for your strategy.

A thorough creative brief gets everyone marching in the right direction, but the toughest element of pitch development to pull off in an all-remote setting is brainstorming, which brings me to my second principle.

Principle No. 2: Don’t Treat Virtual Meetings Like In-Person Meetings

We’ve all been at brainstorming sessions when many or all attendees are calling in to a conference line. The remote brainstorm is nothing new. It’s just that actually doing them effectively and ensuring participation is still really difficult.

Leverage that creative brief you already worked on! Everyone should have it well in advance, and they need to be held accountable for really knowing it. This isn’t just another email attachment in a meeting invite. It’s what everyone will be working from, and it’s absolutely required reading for every meeting.

In fact, successful virtual brainstorming generally requires the team to put more time than usual into meeting prep. Exercises that you’d normally depend on teams to do together in meetings, you might now have to have people do in advance. To help quickly ideate on a bunch of different things, give people two to three action items to brainstorm against on their own. They can present those ideas in a conference call, and the team can build from there instead of starting the call from the ground up.

Also consider assigning more structured brainstorming exercises in advance. One of my personal favorites is called “Pass It Along.” Here’s how it works: When I’m working on those big multi-million dollar pitches, I set up four to five teams consisting of four to five people each, and they have their own mini brainstorm.

First, one person writes down the germ of an idea. Then the second person builds on it, making it even bigger. The third person goes wild, making it so big they could get fired. Then, the last person brings the idea back down to being realistic. This approach forces the big, bold thinking you need. Later, the groups can present their hero idea to the larger group, which jumpstarts your process.

Adjust your brainstorming process to follow my two principles for virtual pitch development and you’ll have a winning deck in no time.

Next time, I want to discuss the finer points of presenting online and helping your team’s chemistry shine through. If you have questions about the art of the virtual pitch, tweet me @RumEkhtiar.



Disruption Planning Now to Get Up to Speed Later

As many of us sit at home, we have a unique opportunity to do some out-of-the-box disruption planning about our business, and perhaps, even our personal goals. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

When Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that the way forward was to “Move fast and break things,” he was certainly unaware of the coming pandemic, which has indisputably moved faster and broken more things than he ever dreamed possible.

One of them is the framework under which we are accustomed to carefully plan our future marketing and career activities. That planning is usually based, at least partially, on our historic experience. However useful in the past, this may not inform dealing with today and tomorrow’s disrupted world.

As many of us sit at home with our kids otherwise occupied and our pets sleeping under our desks, we have a unique opportunity – one we seldom enjoy, even during vacations – to do some out-of-the-box disruption planning about our business, and perhaps, even our personal goals. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

Now is a good time to step back from the usual deadlines and other pressures to “do something” and think about the nature of that “something.” If our current sequestered state makes it impossible for some of us to move as fast as we might like right now, we might productively use this down-time to think of the things we might profitably “break” so we can get up to speed when the new normality takes over.

That said, the new normality is unlikely to look like its predecessor.

Newsmax reported that in an interview on CBS News “Face The Nation,” American Chamber of Commerce head Suzanne Clark said a recent poll carried out by the chamber showed “something like 50% of small businesses say that they were eight weeks away from closing forever.” Even with expected additional federal government help, that percentage is unlikely to be materially reduced as eight weeks is a very short time.

This is only a single instance of how “closing forever” would disrupt not only the small businesses themselves but the entire marketplace previously served by these enterprises. It is certainly not the only one. Just look at the current media turmoil. If you are dependent on marketing to sports’ fans during sporting events for example, what can you do to replace that business while these events are on hold?

What do we need to break so we can position ourselves for the new reality, and plan for a future we can only speculate about?

The first thing is our unending willingness to cling to the comfortable assumptions that got us our last promotion, bonus, or great sale. If our pool of marketers, supply chains, and distribution channels has been disrupted, how quickly can they be replaced, if ever? And should they be? If our jobs are in danger or worse – have been lost – how should we look to replace them?

I would posit that the place each of us should start breaking things might be to take a blank sheet of paper and unreservedly question old assumptions in the form of some very necessary disruption planning:

  • Is what I was doing before the pandemic something economically and operationally viable in a changed environment?
  • Was I happy and fulfilled doing it?
  • Was the structure and organization in which I worked optimum and if not, how would I change it for the unknown environment?
  • What are likely to be the opportunities in the “new normal”?
  • If I could do anything I wanted, what would it be?

There’s a planning challenge to keep you from going stir crazy.

How to Justify Your Marketing Budget to Management

Even in the best of times, getting approval for your marketing budget can be a difficult task, particularly if yours is a complex sale and tracking direct attribution is fuzzy.

Even in the best of times, getting approval for your marketing budget can be a difficult task, particularly if yours is a complex sale and tracking direct attribution is fuzzy.

You’ll likely find the path easier if you lay out your plans to include a set of key metrics and parameters that define success.

What Is the Opportunity?

Begin the conversation by outlining the opportunity you see available to your organization and identifying what happens when you win that opportunity. Do you increase market share? Improve profitability? Bump up customer satisfaction?

The opportunity better be based on a business metric improvement. You’re not likely to get far with a discussion of improved process metrics: more subscribers, likes, followers, etc. That said, it is worth tracking these things so that in the future you can point to them and draw a connection between improved engagement and increases in hard-dollar metrics.

You may also consider a defensive positioning — “if we don’t do this, our competitors will.” Or, “our competitors are already doing this, and we’re falling behind.” I’d be careful with this route, though, as it often leads to defensive thinking. And that leads to marketing resources spent to maintain the status quo. Sometimes that’s the smart path, but it’s not necessarily a popular one.

What Are the Opportunity Costs?

Corporate budgets are generally a zero-sum game. If you spend the money here, that money isn’t being spent somewhere else. You need to demonstrate an awareness of that and be prepared to discuss how and why the investment you are requesting will outproduce the one it is replacing.

How Long Will It Take?

Not all marketing activities are created equal. They have different payoff expectations. (Writing a blog post today won’t likely get you a new customer tomorrow. Launching a new PPC campaign just might.)

Be ready to discuss whether your marketing budget proposal is a short-, medium-, or long-term play and why anything that will take longer than this quarter to realize goals is worth the time risk involved. (Your organization’s culture will influence how important this question is, and perhaps even if recommending a long-term plan is an option.)

What Will It Cost?

This might be the first question out of a manager’s mouth regarding the marketing spend on a specific project, but I wouldn’t address it first if I could avoid it. Better to establish value and expected (positive) outcomes first. Then get into what the total cost will be, whether costs are front-end loaded or more evenly spread out, and whether some portion of your costs are accrued only when progress is being made. The more detail you can provide — particularly details that mitigate risk — the better.

How Can It Be Tweaked?

If it’s not working, what can you change? If it’s working, can it be improved upon? These are critical questions not only to be able to answer, but to get your management team to think about. Why? Because the condition on day one of your new initiative are not going to change, perhaps radically, by day 90.

If you can show that you’re prepared to make the adjustments necessary to keep your efforts pointed toward a profitable outcome, you’ll find greater success in funding your marketing ideas.



The Art of the Virtual Pitch, Part 1: Perfecting Pre-Pitch Engagement

Pitches aren’t always won in the room. That’s great news right now because it might be a while before we’re even in a room together again. Pitches are won by what you do before, during, and after the pitch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my best insights on the art of the virtual pitch.

Pitches aren’t always won in the room. That’s great news right now because it might be a while before we’re even in a room together again. The flip side is that every other element of winning business has become a little more challenging. Pitches are won by what you do before, during, and after the pitch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my best insights on the art of the virtual pitch.

First, let’s talk about wowing potential clients before the pitch even happens. Without the benefit of face-to-face meetings, you’ll need new ways to engage with the client and show that you’re hungry for business.

It’s Business, and It’s Personal

Now is the time to get super creative about showing off your personality. Clients aren’t just buying capability; they’re also looking for chemistry. You’ve already put some thought into the team pitching this client, so dig into your thought process there. What are the skills each person has? What makes them indispensable to your team? When clients feel like they already know you before your pitch meeting, your proposal will go that much smoother.

A technique I love (and that you can tweak and reuse often!) is compiling something engaging to show off your team. Think of it like a totally juiced up business card. You could frame it as a yearbook, a set of baseball cards, the cast of a TV show — anything you think will get a second look. Including names, photos, and specialties is a given, but this should be fun, too. Consider including information like favorite quarantine activity, preferred pitching soundtrack, or last book read. Or lean into the yearbook concept and give everyone a superlative. Emphasizing personality is going to be crucial in the era of virtual pitches.

Make a Grand Gesture

When I was assisting Paypal’s push to expand into working with small businesses, we set up interviews with small businesses and profiled how PayPal could help. One of those small businesses was a great little chocolate maker, so we had them design special PayPal logo chocolates that we delivered on Valentine’s Day.

I also fondly remember a campaign we orchestrated for Discover. We wanted to upend the old notion that Discover cards aren’t widely accepted. It was at the height of the Cronut craze in NYC. So, a box of the city’s most sought after treats with a receipt showing we paid with a Discover credit card said it all.

Okay, so both of those involved snacks, and we know food can be a positive motivator and fan favorite to receive. But right now, something that supports your clients’ community could be a great move as everyone is looking to support one another through a public health crisis.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different

The virtual pitch isn’t new, but conducting remote business on this level is uncharted territory for many, so feel free to break out of your usual approach. Ultimately, this all comes down to romancing potential clients, so if you missed my post about “dating” clients, check it out now.

Remember, clients are not just buying capabilities from you, they’re also buying chemistry with you. Help them get a sense of who your team is and why they’d be awesome to collaborate with.

I’ll be back soon with tips on collaborating on a winning deck … remotely.

Remote Workflow Crash Course: Best Practices for Working From Home

So here we are. Whether by government mandate or executive fiat, at some point in the past few weeks the brand you and your team usually work on from a company office landed in your living room. It probably happened suddenly, in many cases with almost no time to prepare. So here are a few suggestions to point you in the right direction as you adjust to a remote workflow.

[Editor’s Note: While this piece was written for the publishing audience over at our sister brand, Publishing Executive, we know marketers have remote workflow issues to deal with as well. We think this article is relevant to our marketing audience, and hope it offers some additional advice as you navigate these uncertain times]

So here we are. Whether by government mandate or executive fiat, at some point in the past few weeks the publication you and your team usually write, edit, produce, market, and distribute from an office landed in your living room. It probably happened suddenly, in many cases with almost no time to prepare. And you may have discovered – quickly – that the workflow underpinning the whole operation did not make the transition with you.

There may be a lot of scrambling going on, so here are a few suggestions to point you in the right direction as you work on getting a remote workflow in place. The good news is that, once you make the transition to a digital workflow, life will improve. Possibly dramatically and probably fast. It is even likely that your remote workflow will become your regular workflow once you are back in the office.

Step 1: Assess the Damage         

You can’t fix what you can’t see. The only way to fix a broken workflow is to make it visible and start to tinker.

If you are the boss, bring everybody together in a virtual space of some kind and map the workflow you currently have. Identify problems together. Your job is to ask your team what they need and give it to them; their job is to brainstorm and implement solutions.

Step 2: Address Skills Training

Now that everyone is working from home, everyone needs to be self-sufficient with regard to technology. That means there may be skills gaps to address.

My go-to tech tools, which are simple and accessible to most people, are Zoom (useful to connect face-to-face, share screens, and host meetings), Google Docs (a group editing tool in which multiple people can make changes and comments in real time), Trello (allows list-making, process-tracking, and tagging for assignments), and Slack (useful for internal team communication).

Find out up front who is familiar with what, and how much each individual thinks they can handle. Then ask those who have more skills to bring those with fewer up to speed. Publicly document and track each person’s skill set as it evolves and make sure to celebrate improvements!

Step 3: Stop Emailing Documents

Immediately. Most of us no longer print out paper proofs and documents and send them around for colleagues to review, but emailing multiple rounds of PDFs so everyone can sign off on text changes is essentially the same thing. I’ve seen editors add weeks to an editing process as they lobbed a manuscript back and forth on email, and the lack of transparency means no one can ever be sure what state the text is in.

Use Google Docs or some other cloud-based tool to edit, and make the link available to everyone on your team. Use Slack for intra-team communication. And lead by example: I also once watched two CEOs stretch a two-day editing job into four months then wonder why their employees worked slowly.

Step 4: Create Checklists and Standards

Each part of your remote workflow should have a checklist and a set of standards. They should be available online so the whole team can access and update them as things change. (Do not keep these documents on paper; none of the dozens of paper standard books I’ve seen in 20 years were less than two years old.)

Consistently adhering to checklist procedures and applying standards simplifies and increases output per person. The New Yorker just produced their first completely remote issue essentially by following the rules – stored in checklists and standard documentation – that they created for each part of their workflow.

Step 5: Add Structure

Many editors are used to seeing exactly how a text will flow as they work on it, and continue to make small adjustments until the very end of the production process. This can create delays in an office setting and all-out chaos when remote.

The solution is shared access to a text for everyone who needs it, keeping editorial review and sign-off as far upstream as possible (in Google Docs). This allows copy editors to read rather than constantly reread the text, production people to make things fit only once, and I have yet to meet an art department that isn’t thrilled to avoid last-second changes. If you are an EIC who wants to reread entire articles, simply do so in the Google Doc stage like everybody else.

Step 6: Put Content First

Essentially, this involves each story working its way through the editing process as a single Google Doc. Everyone contributes to that document, and it includes all revisions, comments, research links, and images. The simplicity virtually eliminates the time and effort required to prepare content for specific channels, and anyone responsible for distributing that particular story – in print, on the web, on social media, or in audio form – need only verify that the text they are working with matches the master copy.

If web headlines, keywords, and social headings go through the same process before being routed to their respective channels, any fixes are made only once. It’s much easier to maintain consistency and fact checking is a breeze.

Step 7: Step Back

It may feel like a leap of faith, especially in a remote setting, but it’s important to give your workflow permission to operate. Make sure your people have the tools and skills they need, keep the communication channels open, and let them do their jobs.

These practices will pay dividends: One of my clients was able to reduce the lead time between idea and reader from four weeks to four hours. In another case, six editors now take less than three hours to write, edit, check, post, and send a weekly newsletter. America Media group-edits each text, allowing queries and changes to happen simultaneously, and the many hours (if not days) it once took to do exactly the same thing on paper have been reduced to minutes.

Most telling of all, America’s workflow has been fully digital for four years, and when the coronavirus closed their offices two weeks ago, the tweet from their EIC read: “Readers and subscribers should expect to receive their print issues as usual. Digital coverage will be similarly unaffected.”