Do Small Businesses Need a Marketing Communications Intervention?

Among small businesses, (500 employees or less), I find it rare that they much in the way of communicating with customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers, and even employees. Why? There are three primary reasons:

  1. Marketing is perceived as mysterious, and seems complicated.
  2. Sales is familiar and seems easy (I hire a sales guy, use Salesforce and dial for dollars).
  3. I’m too busy to think about it or do it (We’re developing products, ensuring service, hiring people, keeping people happy, fighting fires and meeting payroll, etc.).

When they meet communicators, they’re usually interested in what we have to say. We’re excited and more than willing to rattle off exactly what their business needs: “Social media is critical, public relations is essential and your website, sales materials and trade show stuff must be new, fresh, and compelling. And, of course, there’s the issue of your corporate brand and how all of this fits into an overall marketing communications strategy. So, let’s get started.”

The business owner is now catatonic. Eyes are glazed over. Is he or she breathing? Their business brains have gone straight to “oh my god”  and “there’s no way I can do all this—no time, no money, no people.”  We just assassinated our prospect.

Here’s how to slow down and showcase the role of marketing communications for small businesses in 7 simple steps:

  1. Break it down. No company can do everything all the time. Through a simple yet comprehensive planning session with the sales and executive team, we discover the business goals and efforts that are already planned. We align marketing efforts with business efforts. Business goals with marketing goals.
  2. Start small. If the business owner and the team are historically sales focused vs. marketing savvy, it’s critical to start small and get them comfortable with how marketing works—vs. sales. Starting small may mean implementing something as simple as a customer letter that is written, printed and mailed every quarterly. An easy First Step is a brief yet consistent e-mail “newsletter” to customers and prospects.
  3. Budget the basics. The same principle applies here. Don’t scope the marketing program so they have to put a lien on their building. Give them some practical perspectives, share a brief strategy/goals statement, and then break out the steps and tactics with hard numbers. Be precise and specific.
  4. Stay nearby and navigate with care. I find that entrepreneurs thrive amid chaos so keeping efforts focused, synced and timely are often the most difficult parts of the project. Pre-scheduled status meetings per week serve to remind everyone “who’s on first.” Keeping everyone committed, aware and engaged is 95 percent of the success factor.
  5. Make it easy. Do everything you can to eliminate redundancy, delays and to-dos. If it gets you what you need to accomplish the task, meet your client for a drink after hours or do a phone call after they tuck in their kids for bed. Accommodate them.
  6. Show progress. Don’t go silent and not correspond with the client for a week. Tune in, communicate and let them know something’s happening. I add calendar reminders called “Quick Touch/Client A” just so I reach out—even if there’s not a lot to say. Quick and easy.
  7. Step back. In our quest to act and generate results, we may forget the most important action required with clients: to listen. They are the experts in their business. We need to leverage that so we can improve and advance their cause—and ours.

When clients and communicators combine their competencies, long term, the outcome is extraordinary. There is strength in relationships and results.

Please follow me at http://www.twitter.com/practicalpr.

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F is for … (It’s not what you think)

My kids, they’re ages 20, 16 and 12. Since the days my oldest thought I was The Great Oz, I’ve preached a strong message: There is No Use of the F Word in This House.

My youngest and I were playing hoops one afternoon when I blocked a shot. His brow furrowed and he began complaining. “Dad, you can’t do that, it’s not F—.” He stopped. “Dad, it’s not F-A-I-R.” He spelled the one F word I have never allowed. “I didn’t say it Dad, I spelled it,” he said with a grin. A proud moment, I must admit. Regarding fairness, nothing is and nothing ever will be.  So let’s get over it.

IMG_8715fFor business owners and communicators, there is one F word we never discuss. It’s too personal, invites vulnerability and rattles our confidence.

Failure.  It’s hard to admit. In my life? Oh my, let’s see:

  • Dadhood. My greatest desire in life was to be a great husband and father. FAIL. I just wrapped up a divorce. My kids are wounded as a result. I’m engaged, available, interested and active in their lives. I love them more than life itself. But I made mistakes. And we all pay the price.
  • Perfect PR. I am ambitious, creative and have the temperament that makes me “unique” and “quirky,” per a couple of clients. They qualified the statements, “in a good way …” Yeah. Ha. I strived for perfection for a long time. FYI, if you think you can achieve perfection, find the closest mirror, look at yourself and slap yourself. It ain’t gonna happen on this side of the universe.
  • Money. I had a Dad who was extremely smart and wise about finances. He paid for most of my college. I had a car when I was legal to drive. I had more than I even knew. I haven’t been that wise or savvy so my family’s in a different situation, to my chagrin.

And you? Can you admit failure, and learn from it? I can and can’t. Sometimes I avoid the issue. I deny. I dive into work or other things that distract me and keep me away from reality, recognition and admission. It’s like those 12-Steppers and that first step: Admission begins the road to recovery.

I’m sure not excited about failure in my life. And I offer no Pollyanna advice or happy endings. But I do know that without it, I wouldn’t appreciate the triumphs and victories. And yes, I do feel better knowing that success is often bred from failure (thank God). These folks prove it.

  • Lincoln failed at politics initially. FYI, he became president.
  • Thomas Edison failed – his teachers called him stupid–an idiot who wouldn’t amount to anything.
  • Oprah failed. She was fired from her first TV job.
  • Walt Disney was called “unimaginative” with no good ideas.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC Cinematic Arts program. Several times.
  • Sanders couldn’t get anyone to buy his chicken. And then… yeah.
  • Fred Astaire, initially, was told he couldn’t sing or act. No talent.

See more …

What’s the point? Failing isn’t always the end of something. It can be the beginning. Usually painful, yes. Life changing? Often. But wholly destructive? Not usually.

So go ahead. Fail. Fall. Mourn. Admit.

And then try again.

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S is for …

Let’s see, S is for … sunshine, sharing, softness, silliness, sex, sailing, Sagittarius, sales, saints, shitheads and Saltines. Those flow straight from my brain to the fingertips. No wisecracks please.

For all of us, S is ultimately about Success. How that’s defined may vary but I’ve found four S imperatives.

 The 4 S’ For Biz Owners & Communicators

 #1 Survive.  Darwin was right in at least one respect.  Survival is inherent during our struggles to maintain life, be it personally or professionally. I’ve seen agencies wiped off the planet since beginning my own firm in 2007. Good people and good work, gone. Cash flow means everything, say the agency owners I know. But they temper that with a spirit of generosity. They don’t hire and fire at will based on the balance sheet (like many do). They hire wisely. They stay fiscally conservative even when they land a “big fish.” They realize People matter, and act accordingly.  They also use outsourced resources (um, like me). These translate into #2: Satisfaction.IMG_8715f

#2 Satisfaction.  Years ago, there was a high-flying agency growing faster than beanstalks in Jack’s world. It almost seemed supernatural. Then it imploded. Word on the street: an explosive, toxic and exhausting work environment. Tyranny. And clients who expected what was promised, which didn’t happen. It was all “churn and burn.” Satisfying the client is the best antidote for tough times. I’ve had bosses who preached and practiced giving “extras” to the client vs. the “nickel and dime” approach. Give. It always comes back. The same goes for employees. Treat them well, they will champion you. Treat them like dogs and they’ll bite in you in the butt. And you’ll deserve it.

#3 Keep it Simple. Sorry for the cliché. One successful agency principal recently shared this with finesse: “I had an employee who, in essence, worked slowly and systematically to build a five-star restaurant PR approach for a client.  This client didn’t want a 5-star restaurant, the client wanted quick action and fast food.” Lessons learned: Don’t oversell and overthink (don’t knee-jerk either). Keep it simple and get it done. Also, always discuss expectations with the client before you start.

#4. SALES is everyone’s job. Throw out the typical agency model in which you “woo and wow a prospect with big ideas, promises and executives with big titles” then throw the junior team on the account. Selling is relational—and about discovering what fieldguidea client really needs, not what you sell. Teach and help your entire organization to sell, not by being “Mr. or Mrs. Call Now!” but through conversation, inquiring questions and sincerity.  Need help to get started? I recommend Debbie Mrazek. Incredible. Phenomenal. Practical.

When it’s about your business, it’s easy to look inward only. Survival and success is really outwardly focused, mostly on employees and clients. Both will either drive your business sky high or drill it into the dirt.

Stay strong, believe, affirm and aspire. And they’ll follow. Ah, sweet success.

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*Pang* *Flash* G is For ….

Anyone who knows me will immediately think of one G word … “Go.” Yeah, high speed and lots of curves. I thrive at full throttle with steep climbs and sharp curves.

That’s not the G word that matters.IMG_8715f

Others will say it’s got to be God. Well, that’s a big one. Capital G. Still not there though. Perhaps it’s greatness or goodness, or the flip side: grumpy, goofy, gauche … Regardless, these attributes, relevant or not, aren’t that important.

The G word that keeps flashing through my dreams and thoughts is sobering. And a struggle.

Grace.

Is it a noun or a verb? Growing up Christian, I heard it and learned it frequently: man is inherently sinful. God freely gives me grace and erases all the gunk, gook, idiocy, mouthiness and moments of madness from my life. Through Christ his son.
But I can’t help but think that grace extends beyond pulpits and prayer clubs. Grace is act of individual will. It extends unmerited favor from one to another.

The flashes and pangs of grace-mindedness are daily for me. They hit like a combo punch from Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang, usually when I:

  • Drive behind a moron driving 55 mph in the fast lane on Central Expressway
  • Stand in the grocery line behind a lady oblivious to the rest of the galaxy, slowing reading and debating the value of the 25 coupons she just handed the cashier
  • Work with others who deliver little more than excuses or blame, yet lord over others with self-importance and arrogance
  • Perceive an issue as “petty” while another may not, and continues to chatter, chant, rave and rant, ad nauseum

In each of these real-life cases, I felt a very real pang at the moment I begin my criticism and judgment. “…What about grace, Roy, remember?”

And so I breathe and realize that it’s OK. The slow driver may be new and nervous; the lady in line may be facing the financial crisis of a lifetime; the worker may be ill equipped or in the midst of some crisis that is fragmenting their work performance. And yes, what’s petty to me is irrelevant. If it’s important, then it’s important.

Now blow this up. The world is increasingly anti-grace. We have a conservative pundit attacking an American doctor for being a Christian and a missionary; we have zero-tolerance rules that put teenagers in prison for life—for weed in their cars. We have grandmas and granddads being beaten to death for food, cars and money.

And in the PR profession?Helloooo. We have prima donnas treating junior employees like dogs, interns not being paid for their work and a workplace that’s often cold, harsh and impersonal.

Where is the grace? Where is my grace? The flashes and pangs are reminding me. Helping me. Even encouraging me. They actually rattle me into remembering the countless times I’ve experienced unmerited favor from parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, neighbors and strangers. And God. I can think of at least three times in my life when I did not deserve unmerited favor from someone. If they had chosen zero tolerance, I could have lost everything. Everything.

Grace. Can you find it, face it and pay it forward?

Even now, there’s a circumstance where I’m resisting grace. “They deserve my contempt and wrath …” Yeah. *Pang* *Flash*

OK.

Let’s go to work. See the faces. Think grace.

Go home. See the wife. See the kids. Think grace.

Drive to the store. Think grace.

Then do it.

Grace is a verb.

 

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Do I have a chronic disease (CLS)? Do you?

I recently discovered I may have CLS. It’s often called CCLS as well. I’m talking about Communicator Lay-off Syndrome, also known as Chronic Communicator Lay-off Syndrome.

sickguyIt seems more prevalent than West Nile, perhaps even the common cold. I got hit last week. I walked into my boss’ office and there stood the Angel of Death: The HR manager. I knew I was dead meat at that point. 

So it was bye-bye, good luck. Sayonara. It’s odd to be struck by CLS, i.e., standing alone in a slow-moving elevator with a cardboard box of trash and trinkets that I’d accumulated.  As I walked through the parking garage to my car, I noticed the pages of my cherished yet aged AP Stylebook flapping in the wind. I had to smile. It was as if the The Great Journalism Spirit in the Sky was waving to catch my attention. “Miller … Miller! Listen up. All the pages haven’t been written in your life or career. Don’t give up, especially when the wind slaps you in the face.” 

So, I seek full-time employment. NOW. CLS  is more real than ever. Seemingly ubiquitous. It never discriminates, no matter your age, gender, industry or where you live. It’s a fact. Look at mid-October. WaggEd layed off 5% of its workforce. That’s 40-plus men and women put on the street. Think about all those journalists that wrote for something called a newspaper — the paper kind. Many are now freelancers. Many said “to hell with it” and started over. I know some who are now Realtors, day traders and even stay-at-home Dads.

Yet, I know I’m blessed. I’ve only been laid off twice during my 25-year communications career. Once in 1993 when my employer was bought by another company. And now, this time.  It is what it is. And here I am. I’m thankful for always pushing myself to never be satisfied with the status quo and what “I know about PR.” When you stop learning and growing, you stop living. You kill your career. You dull your skills. You become obsolete.

I love social media and writing blogs. I like showing a company executive that becoming a subject-matter expert isn’t about being Tony Robbins. It’s about knowing your audience, Telling Your Story and leveraging the expertise of a strategic communicator.

There are good days ahead. And for my colleagues feeling caught in the chronic cycle of CLS, be encouraged. Look in the mirror. Explore, examine and initiate personal change. Improve yourself. Push forward.

Bottom line, just keep moving.  Sometimes, that’s all it take to beat CLS.

-R

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Great back-to-school infographic http://

Great back-to-school infographic http://ow.ly/nVFM9 #socialmedia

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Get to know more about social media, 30

Get to know more about social media, 30 ways. http://ow.ly/nFXcK #socialmedia

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