Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stop Flashing Me Already

I’m getting ready to redesign our own website, and I’ve been exploring a lot of competitive agency websites for inspiration. Is it just me, or is almost every agency website built in Flash, with a fancy front end that plays like a TV commercial before getting me to the site itself?

I know there are some who disagree with me—even among my own colleagues—but I think these sites sacrifice the steak for the sizzle. I’ve already issued an edict to my team that when we build our site it will not be in Flash and will not have the fancy front end. Why? It seems self-serving, like t-shirts with our company logo on them. They make us feel good about ourselves, but don’t really help our customers.

As a customer, I personally hate having to wait for the Flash movie to get over before getting to the site, so I usually try to find the “skip it” link. Sometimes that link is easier to find than others, and for sites that make it difficult to find I end up getting annoyed. Then when I do get to the site, everything I click on is usually animated. Everything I mouse over usually deploys a hidden message. And when I’m not clicking on anything there’s usually something moving somewhere on the screen trying to grab my attention. It just annoys me, like a little dog that’s constantly yapping and nipping at your heels for attention.

What does such a site say for promoting your company as a communication partner? “We don’t really know how to grab your attention, so we’ll throw everything we have at you”? “Look at how awesomely creative we are”? “We bet you can’t use Flash as well as we can use Flash”?

Websites are communication tools that should be designed to deliver the right message to the right audience in the right way. It shouldn’t be the Speed Racer movie of websites—no plot but more than its share of really bright special effects. Before pulling Flash out of your toolbox, make sure you’ve given thought to your audience and what you want them to do when they come to your site. If Flash will help them do what you want, then use it. Otherwise think of something else that will be effective.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Please Read this Effing Post

I was reading a blog recently written by an account planner at a European agency. The author is young; his photo and list of his interests puts him in his late twenties in my forty-something mind. I like what he has to say, though, and I like the fact that he’s not senior management at his agency.

But…the other day he dropped the f-bomb in his blog.

Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t offended. I tend to use the f-bomb rather liberally within the confines of my own office, especially when I’m writing purchase orders or doing other paperwork. It got me to thinking, though—what role does (or should) profanity play in an ostensibly professional blog post? And can (or does) it do you any damage?

I realize there are a lot of variables that need to be addressed before answering that question, like what your brand represents in the first place and to whom you are speaking with your blog. Generally speaking, however, what does what does the casual dropping of the f-bomb mean in a blog?

On the one hand, it could impress upon your audience that you are having a conversation with them. That you feel comfortable enough with them to let your guard down a little bit and use the occasional “colorful metaphor.” This might actually foster the conversation, and get folks to open up more candidly with their thoughts—and colorful metaphors.

On the other hand you could make your readers believe that you really aren’t serious about the topic, or your job, or your life. After all, you started off all nice and professional, and then you said THAT. How immature, Mr. Longshoreman (apologies in advance to longshoremen everywhere for the sweeping generalization).

On another hand (?) there may be those who say that you’re pushing the envelope, and being edgy, and that's what the industry needs--fresh thinking! But yet another hand might slap you down for using the lazy person’s choice of words instead of thinking of something more appropriate.

Bottom line (and regardless of how many hands you have)—I don’t know what it means. I will say that blogs probably are viewed as more informal than actual printed media because they are more democratized and everyone can publish one. And because we are ostensibly having conversations with our audience via blogs the language will likely become more casual. However, I do think it’s always important to be mindful of your audience when writing anything professional—a blog, a press release, a website, what have you. Before turning that salty phrase you might want to just be sure that your audience will be receptive to it.

And that’s all I have to effing say about that. What the eff do you think?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Bit of Fun on a Sunday Night

I've only been blogging for a very short time, but I already have a pretty interesting "word cloud" for this blog, courtesy of

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hiding Your Twitter Habit from the Boss?

Hot on the heels of Oprah's triumphant entry into the Twitterverse (my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek as I say that), the New York Times published a piece on Spreadtweet, a Twitter client that looks just like an Excel spreadsheet. Why? Because you can use it at work and the boss will never suspect you're Twittering!

Given my post yesterday about why those in the trenches seem relatively absent in the blogosphere, I'm torn between being amazed at the cleverness of the concept and annoyed at the need for it. It's really unfortunate that there are companies that still prohibit the use of social media tools among employees. They provide valuable means for staying connected with colleagues and trends in one's industry. While I applaud the developers of Spreadtweet for finding a need and filling it, I am more inclined to encourage those working for employers that limit social media access to instead be honest about your desire to connect with colleagues and ask your management for permission to use the tools.

Instead of going underground, why not draft a proposal for your superiors that demonstrates the value of interacting with colleagues via Twitter and blogs? Offer to report to your colleagues on a regular basis the things you learn as a result of this interaction. Tie measureable social media interaction to your annual performance goals. In short, become visible embassadors of media that we all know is not just a passing fancy and not just a way to stay in touch with friends and family. Prove to your employers the value of social media; not only will it benefit you in your career but it will ultimately benefit all of us as we try to connect with ever more professionals across a variety of industries.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Desperately Seeking Smaller Fish

I’m learning a great deal lately just by finding talented, insightful people to follow on Twitter and within the blogosphere. For instance, I’ve been following Steve “Repman” Cody for at least two years now as he blogs about reputation management; his business partner Ed Moed also blogs. I just started to routinely read Beth Harte’s blog about marketing communications. Brian Clark at Copyblogger offers really great insight into how to craft content for social media—or any media, for that matter. And I was recently led to an excellent blog by Drew McLellan at McLellan Marketing Group.

Really good stuff from all of these folks, and others like them; I endorse all of them if you’re interested in staying abreast of trends in advertising, PR and strategic communications. But I find it interesting that all of them have one thing in common—they are company leaders, top of the food chain. Steve Cody and Ed Moed are each managing partners and co-founders at Peppercom, a NYC strategic communications firm with offices around the world. Beth Harte is principal at Harte Marketing Communications outside Philadelphia. Brian Clark is an entrepreneur. And Drew McLellan spells it out best on his blog by describing himself as “top dog at McLellan Marketing Group.”

Nothing wrong with any of this; I’m glad to have access to people of this caliber. But it seems that the big fish in marketing and communications are so much more likely to be the ones who are blogging. Why don’t I see as many smaller fish sharing their insights?

One reason could be that I’m just not looking hard enough. It could very well be that there are account execs, creatives, PR professionals and project managers out there blogging or tweeting about what they are learning in their day-to-day experiences in the trenches. If they are out there, and you know of them, please let me know—I’d love to read their stuff.

Another reason may be that the blogosphere has become somewhat top heavy. While social media invites all of us to the conversation, it is still so new that many of us carry with us the baggage of traditional media rules of engagement. For instance, traditional media rules dictate that only certain individuals, called “spokespersons,” have the right to say anything on behalf of their company. Now it may be that the smaller fish working in the trenches aren’t actually speaking on behalf of their companies, but may feel as if their voices and opinions will somehow reflect upon their employers, and their employers may not appreciate that. Especially in this economic environment nobody wants to lose his or her jobs because of an innocent faux pas.

Maybe, too, we as leaders (yes, I must admit that I’m near the top of the food chain in my organization, as well) are not doing as much to encourage those working for us to put their opinions out there. Again, the old corporate mindset, while touting teamwork, is really about hunkering down and doing your job. Speak when spoken to. And above all, don’t waste time. If you’re blogging, then you’re not working for me. I’ve experienced it personally in my career. If that’s still the case, then we as leaders must encourage our teams to offer their opinions, whether in our own meeting rooms or within the larger venue that is social media.

For example, I was recently at a meeting of RAMA—the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which is an arm of the National Retail Federation. It was a good meeting, but again the speakers were all big fish—chief marketing officers, published authors and company leaders. At one point I turned to my graphic artist and said, “You know, I really would like to hear from someone like you next year.” Why? After a while the stories all start to sound the same, when they are coming from people working at the same level. We need to hear from those subordinate to us in order to keep the ideas fresh and real.

Finally, it may be that the smaller fish in the trenches don’t feel as if they are making a difference—or if they even can. The fact of the matter is that they can and do make a difference. Their work is our bread and butter. But they may feel as if they are underappreciated, in which case why bother telling anybody what’s on my mind. We may never know if this is true, but we can all work to recognize their hard work and invite them to share their work with others.

In summary: big fish—keep on blogging. Your opinions are valuable. But small fish—start blogging, and tweeting, and texting and sharing your opinions. As marketing communications continues to change, it is your experience and insight and we all really need to hear.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Ol' Irrepressible Force and Immovable Object

I learned something today from a client. I've been working to design some newspaper ads for him, and I've been pushing back pretty hard on his use of some elements that simply don't reinforce his brand message. My art director and I developed several alternatives for him to review. Bottom line, though--he prefers his original direction. We sparred on this a bit (which I think is a healthy thing), but at the end I came to realize that in spite of our difference of opinion we weren't entirely on different pages. Ultimately, he reminded me that it's just as important to consider the medium as it is the message.

Last year he spent tens of thousands of dollars on focus groups to understand what customers found most valuable in a newspaper ad for his product. The answer--exactly what he was telling me to include. He agrees with me that his direction does not necessarily reinforce his brand, but for various reasons he's somewhat stuck working with newspaper advertising for the foreseeable future, and as such he has to make sure his use of that medium is as effective as it can be.

As we talked, I came to realize that the damage potential to his brand by making these branding concessions for newspaper were probably not that great. And I ultimately got him to concede that we need to revisit his entire promotional strategy such that it better reflects his brand image.

I was happy with this outcome. It validated both of our points, but also identified a course of action that could potentially be more successful than what he was currently dealing with. I like to think this is what happens when the irrepressible force meets the immovable object. The universe doesn't collapse in on itself. Instead, I think that compromise happens, and new opportunities present themselves, as they did for me today.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Hate Binders

I'm staring at four binders that are stacked in a very discombobulated fashion on my desk. I hate them. They were the at the heart of my predecessor's organization method. Mind you, now, I am a creative director. I lead a small marketing communications team. Yet my predecessor chose to file things the old-fashioned way.

I personally strive for a more electronic workflow. I just started using Clients and Profits ASAP for general department management, and I am also using 5pm for project management with my team. I'm familiar with Clients and Profits from way back, and I was thrilled to see that they have a cost- effective web-based tool in their ASAP product. 5pm is similarly web-based, and very cost-effective. Both are very easy to use, as well.

Do you use electronic tools to manage your workflow? I'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What does it mean to be "social media smart"?

My recent posts highlight a discussion that continues among social
media aficionados: what does it mean to be smart about social media
from a marketing perspective? What does it mean for a company to "get"
social media?

To answer this question, I'd like to step back for a minute and
discuss how social media has changed the marketing environment.
Fundamentally, it has augmented the feedback loop coming from
customers and other stakeholders to companies. In the past, marketing
was all about broadcasting. Mass media. Blowing messages out as
loudly and as broadly as possible. Feedback came in dribs and drabs;
certainly customers would comment during the buying process, but
concerted feedback only came when a company was willing and able to
pay for market research, host focus groups, etc. In short, the
conversation was predominantly one way--from the company to the

Enter social media. Now consumers have a medium whereby they can
provide feedback at their discretion. It can be targeted directly at
the company of their choice, or it can be a shout from the
mountaintops into cyberspace. At any rate, it is noise to which many
companies are not accustomed, and to which they are similarly ill
prepared to manage.

So the real question is not whether or not a company "gets" social
media. It is whether or not a company is willing to have an ongoing
conversation with their customers and other stakeholders. If they are
willing, then they will eventually get social media, because right now
it's the best tool they have to engage in that conversation. If they
don't, then they won't. And for the moment I won't presume to judge
whether or not avoidance or those conversations is in the best
interest of those companies, because I do think there are other
considerations to evaluate before making that judgement. More about
that in a future post.

5 ways to create content for social media and SEO -

Yesterday I discussed why many marketers don't get social media. Here's an excellent blog post re: how to create content for social media that also ties in the concept of search engine optimization. Enjoy.


The heart of a brand's social media plan should revolve around interesting content. Here's how to maximize content value by attracting users no matter where they travel online.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Social Media is So Hard for Marketers to Grasp

Beth Harte tweeted today about a comment made on Mac Collier's blog "The Viral Garden" that further demonstrated how some folks still don't get social media. I agree with her. However, here's why I think it is that social media is still so hard for some to grasp:
  • Social media is about conversations. And conversations happen among people. Most marketing folks have a hard time getting over their institutional mentality. Can you smell the bureaucracy?

    "Okay, gang. Who is going to own the Twitter feed for Conglomerated Amalgamated? Should it be Global Marketing, North American Sales or Client Services?"

    "I think it should be Operations, since they have the most product knowledge."

    "Sounds good. What about headcount? Do we need to hire someone?"

    "I don't know. I heard heads were frozen until Q4."

    "They are, but we might be able to steal someone from Rob's group, and I can build a headcount into my budget when we sit down in September."

    "You know we're going to have to get Marketing involved somehow, because otherwise they'll be pissed if we don't adhere to their brand standards."

    "Okay, then how about Alicia on 2nd shift? She used to be in Marketing, and I know she sends a lot of text messages when she's outside having a smoke."

    "That could work. Okay. I'll talk to Rob about borrowing Alicia. Someone talk to Alicia to see if she's interested. I'll be meeting with Marketing next week, so I'll clear it with them. And we better talk to IT to make sure we can get Twitter across the firewall. Tom, do you want to do that?"
  • Social media is about conversations. And conversations happen among people. That means no longer are companies shouting at the universe and calling it marketing. Instead, they are talking to individuals, and actually getting a response. They're ill prepared for dialogue coming at them; in their minds that only happens in a crisis, in which case they pony out their highly-paid well-polished spokesperson.

  • Social media is about conversations. And conversations happen among people. That means companies have to be receptive to what other people have to say. Many companies don't want to hear from people unless they are going to buy something. Heaven forbid the customer ask for something they don't deliver and don't want to deliver. And what if the customer says something NEGATIVE? This frightens the hell out of most marketers, because they think the competition will use positive comments to improve their own products and negative comments to steal market share. It frightens the hell out of salespeople because they think any negative comment will make it harder for them to sell. It frightens the hell out of the C-level suite because they're generally control freaks, and they can't control what someone says on the other end of your social media feed.

  • Social media is about conversations. And conversations happen among people. That means that the person actually typing on Twitter or Facebook may have to be trusted to use their brains--and not the company hymnal--when talking to someone. This frightens the hell out of attorneys who worry that Alicia may be exposing the company to liability by acknowledging a customer comment that the Widget 3000 doesn't actually spin straw into gold.

Why is social media so hard for marketers to grasp? Because social media is about conversations. And conversations happen among people.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why You Should Avoid Tweeting Your Dead Content

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because you found it via Twitter. I say that because I just started my blog and haven’t done anything to promote it before now. I see Twitter as a very useful tool for promoting my blog. It gives me an opportunity to add value to my followers by announcing the availability of new information for them to consume, which they can do at their convenience. As a blogger, however, it is now incumbent upon me to provide fresh content on a relatively consistent basis. If I don’t, then all of you who may choose to follow my blog will stop doing so when you see that it has likely died on the vine. And I won’t have a useful source of information to share with my followers on Twitter.

This reality doesn’t stop some bloggers, though. I’ve noticed many who try to keep their relatively dead blogs alive by repeatedly posting links to old blog posts on Twitter. I think this is a mistake. Yes, as your Twitter following grows you will be able to direct to your blog those followers who have not yet read it. Over time, though, I believe you’ll alienate faithful followers of your Twitter feed who will realize that you don’t really have anything new to say. The end result—they’ll eventually stop following you.

I think what you have to ask yourself is this—what kind of person do you want following you on Twitter? Do you want to have a core group of people who are faithful to you over time because you provide them with value, or will you be content to cycle through followers as they come and go? This isn’t just a Twitter/blogging question—it’s a question at the heart of branding and loyalty marketing. Is there more value in maintaining current customers or getting new ones? I’d suggest that only by supporting the interests of your current followers will you find new ones, and that only by consistently adding value will you turn new followers into loyalists.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why Maintaining Visual Brand Standards Is So Important

Throughout my career I’ve often been challenged (sometimes I was even the one doing the challenging) about why it is necessary to adhere so closely to established visual standards regarding a brand. So what if paragraph copy comes too close to the brand logo? And why can’t I stretch the logo to fit my funky giveaway item? Most importantly, I don’t really like those colors—can I make my brochure “hot pink” so it will stick out?

The answer is a relatively simple one. Brand visual standards—your logo, color palette, font type, image guidelines, and the rules governing them—are intended to reflect and visually reinforce your brand value proposition. After all, a brand is not what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is. The best way to get them to say something consistent about your brand is to be consistent in your portrayal of the brand. And that means being consistent in the way you represent your brand visually.

This assumes of course that your company, or whoever owns the brand, has done their homework in ensuring that your visual brand strategy, when implemented properly, accurately reflects your brand value proposition. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that it does. Then it is in your best interest as an ambassador of that brand to adhere to the visual standards of the brand. In doing so you train customers to expect a certain “look and feel” from your brand, and that consistency will theoretically cause them to feel about your brand the way you want them to feel. Doing anything else will send mixed messages the end result of which will be that you functionally have no brand whatsoever.

And if you have a strategic marketing group responsible for maintaining these visual branding standards, you might want to consider cutting them some slack when they tell you you’re not adhering to those standards. They’re not trying to be draconian. Rather they are doing what is in the best interest of the brand—it’s their job to do so. I’d suggest you thank them for looking out for the brand and take their advice if it seems sound. A strong brand will make it easier for your company to differentiate itself in the marketplace and ultimately be more successful.