Monthly Archives: November 2016

A Gift From The PR Gods

I received an invitation a couple of weeks back that I thought I’d share with you all today. It’s a wonderful example of so many things gone wrong that I hardly know where to begin. Sorry if I sound delighted, but I’m always happy when fodder for the screed pops into my inbox.

It begins innocuously enough:

This Friday, Keith, we are doing a last minute gift guide mailing to the top 30 influencers who need products for their short lead holiday gift guides and long lead Valentine’s Day gift guides and we thought Consult Keith, might be a good fit.

Let’s stop there and think for a moment. Does anyone give blogs as gifts? I certainly don’t but maybe I’m behind the times. Had I already done what I’ve repeatedly threatened to do and turn these 2,000 or so posts into a book, I might have something tangible to send along. Still, I’m always up for increasing the readership of this thing so let’s keep reading, shall we?

Next, there is a list of 33 media outlets (yes, 33, not “the top 30”) of various sorts which reach widely divergent targets. Some skew very female, some quite male, some fairly old and some quite young. Now while I get that a gift guide might contain things the target would buy for a different demographic, it strikes me as odd that this is as untargeted as it is. No offer to segment the list either. But what do I get?

And what do I need to give you?

  • 30 pieces of product (with a press release attached to each)
  • A paragraph descriptor of your product
  • Photo of the product on a white background

Nothing like getting included in a group of indeterminate size, right? The invite doesn’t mention any limit on how many products will be placed on the desks of these influencers, and one can only imagine how the 30 pieces of your product will be divided across the 33 names on the recipient list. Of course, given what I know about building security in New York (where many of these outlets are located), there is a very good chance that the “direct delivery” won’t happen, especially since the product is to be shipped to Los Angeles. The cost is only $849. Oh – plus the product cost. And shipping the product to LA. So if you have an item that costs you $35, that’s $1,050 in product cost plus shipping for 30 items (let’s figure $10 each) plus $849. So for just under $2,200, you can be included in a bunch of stuff that gets given to someone at a media outlet for possible review and/or mention. Such a bargain…

I don’t mean to be a total cynic here. PR is important, especially at this peak shopping time of the year. But I back up to the very fact that I received this invitation to send along product in the first place. My product is this blog or maybe even my consulting services. Neither are a fit for this, obviously, but the note calls into question how carefully this PR firm will execute the program since they can’t even screen the recipients of this invitation and the target list is a scattershot approach to messaging. They can’t seem to count to 33 either, and if PR NewsWire is the extent of the marketing they’re doing, I’m underwhelmed. Those are  pretty big red flags. Then again, we’d never do anything as off-target as this, would we?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Feeling-based Vs. Fact-based

Before the Thanksgiving break, I did a free consultation with a prospective client (you can get yourself one too just by asking!). We talked about where the business has been and where he thinks it should be going. The problem we identified was that much of his information was feeling-based and not fact-based. I can hear  the frequent readers of this screed preparing for yet another rant on the value of data, so let me surprise you a little today.

English: Cyber analytics is the science of ana...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hardest thing in business is seeing over the horizon. Oftentimes we need to shut our eyes and project ourselves forward in time, carried on the magic carpet woven from what we know so far and our own intuition. The reason is that in today’s business climate the future is often very different from the past and the analytics that reflect past behaviors have to be projected forward in the context of what might be the future environment. The more ambiguity the future holds for your business the greater the reliance on your own gut.

The issue for this business is that the leadership team was either young or inexperienced in business (they are scientists, mostly) or both. That’s why it seemed as if bringing in experience and intuition (that would be yours truly) made sense. You might not be in that situation but you might be feeling uneasy about your firm’s future direction even as you act in accordance with all the business measures you have in place.

Please don’t mishear me. If you have any sort of digital presence (website, social, email, etc) and aren’t using your analytics to inform you about traffic and how users are engaging with you, you’re not doing your job. If you don’t know or understand those things, find someone who does. If you can close your eyes and feel your typical customer, that’s fantastic, but if the reality of your data doesn’t match your feelings, you need to try again. You can’t let run a business making feeling-based decisions alone. Don’t over-think, but don’t under-inform. OK?

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Filed under Consulting

Turkey Day

It’s time for the annual Thanksgiving post. Many years I’ve posted about the 3F’s that drive this holiday – family, football, and food. This year I’ve gone back to 2008 for a take that has little to do with business and a lot to do with why this is a special holiday. Enjoy!

My family loves Thanksgiving.  For the most part, so do I.  The entire family getting together is not something that happens with great regularity anymore – grandparents winter in Florida, kids are in college or living their own lives, brothers and sisters and other relations have busy schedules too.  So when 20 or 25 of us can pile into one location, it’s special, and each gathering is unique.  Except for one thing.Thanksgiving’s menu in my house is something that descended directly from the Pilgrims.  It is etched in two tablets made from the skin of the original bird (and we can have the discussion about whether that bird was in Plymouth or in St.Augustine another time).  Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and apricots, cranberry mold, cranberry bread, veggies, stuffing and gallons of gravy are pretty much it.

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cook every year and love to do it.  Except I can do it in my sleep at this point. I am under strict orders from all parties NOT TO FOOL (they use another word) WITH THE MENU.  The only choices I get to make are what kinds of stuffing and which veggies to serve.  But I don’t, really.

One year I caused a huge ruckus by announcing in advance (mistake) that I would be frying one of the birds (we usually have two).  The discovery of a cure for cancer would have caused less of a ruckus.  Of course, now a fried turkey is mandatory.  Another year I made four dressings – one a cornbread and andouille, one a sausage and herb, one an oyster, and one a vegetarian version that was very traditional.  Of course, only the last one was eaten up.  No more oysters (and don’t even start the discussion about that’s what the Indians ate) in the damn dressing and leave that andouille stuff south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Another year, I slow cooked the green beans with bacon.  “Darling, do you have any less cooked?  I’m not sure I know what I’m eating…”  Another year I served carrots with a tangerine glaze.  The next, I was berated for not serving carrots.

I’m writing this now because there are only two weeks to go and my Mom is asking if I’ve shopped yet (Mom is always ready well in advance).  I tell her I haven’t shopped because I haven’t planned the menu yet but who am I kidding?  The menu was done years ago.  I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m roasting the other bird in a Caja China and not an oven and that I’m seriously considering bringing back the cornbread thing.  But I’ll cook them whatever they want since having the family all together is more important to me than my exercising my chefly prerogatives.

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Filed under food, What's Going On

Can Overhead Mean Profit?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and he told me about some layoffs that were going on at his place. Many of the people being cut were what we euphemistically used to call the “non-revenue generating portion of our staff.” You might term them overhead. You know – sales assistants, secretaries, accountants – the people to whom direct revenue isn’t attributed. I told my friend that I think it was an incredibly short-sighted move and in an effort to help your business not make the same sort of error, here’s why I feel that way.

First and foremost, there is a decent amount of research that tells is that salespeople – the people who bring in the fuel that drives your business’ engine – spend only about a third of their time (36%) actually selling. You know – meeting or connecting with clients either in person or virtually. 64% of their time is spent on non-sales activity, and a good chunk of that is with administrative tasks (25%) and service tasks (16%). A great sales assistant can take over much of those tasks, freeing the salesperson up to do what only they can do. Is it cost-effective? If a salesperson is making $200,000 a year and you can boost their output, making them worth $50,000 more, then you’ve paid for the assistant, right?

The same can be said of other support people. A smart accountant or lawyer can help boost profits, even if they do nothing more than find a way to say “yes” in making deals happen. That’s not always the case – I’ve worked with internal lawyers who were a bigger impediment to business than a crappy marketplace. If there is an internal awareness of revenue goals and a commitment by everyone to making deals happen, there is no such thing as “overhead.”

Selling has changed, no matter your business. Focusing on customers’ needs, not trying to sell them products they don’t want or need, and being a trusted advisor are the key ingredients in sales (and revenue) success. The more people your company can put to that task on behalf of your clients, the better. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

What’s My Name?

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week begins with a question. What do English Muffins, Vichyssoise, and Spaghetti and Meatballs have in common? I think if you asked many people they might answer that each is a “foreign” food that has become popular in the U.S. Actually, while the popularity piece is correct, each of those dishes was invented right here in America. You can add such “imported” dishes as Pasta Primavera, German Chocolate Cake, a Cuban Sandwich, and nearly every bit of what most Americans think of as Mexican food to the list. Each of these was created here despite their name or feel.

English: Spaghetti and Meatballs

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does that have to do with business? I dine a lot at a local Mexican spot. This is not the “Mexican” food of Taco Bell, Chipotle, or Qdoba. There are no English menus and while there are certainly tacos, burritos, and other familiar sounding dishes, there are fillings such as tongue and tripe instead of the ubiquitous ground beef and chicken. There are also dishes (iguana, anyone?) that are truly Mexican. No chimichangas here.

I bring this up because we often allow our preconceptions of something to dictate how we process information. We hear “pasta” or “spaghetti” and we believe something originated in Italy. We see a spreadsheet and assume that the numbers and formulas have been vetted when in fact there may be computational errors or typos. Much worse is some people’s tendency to hear a name and assume  a lot about the person.  You know what I mean – a Jewish name means someone who will be good with money, an Asian name means they’re great with numbers. It’s a long, unfortunate list.

So the next time you settle down in front of a fajita or a nice bowl of chili and appreciate their “authentic” flavors, just remember that the flavor comes from Texas and not from Mexico. When you next settle in front of a report or a spreadsheet, spend a minute to ask about its origins as well. You can even think about what the motivations where of the person who created it. Try to keep an open mind about the interviewee in front of you as well, whatever their name, It might just change your whole perception.

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Filed under Consulting, food

Why Can’t You Yell Fire?

I think we all know that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. It will cause a panic and someone will get hurt. At a minimum, the odds are that someone will also call in a false alarm that distracts the fire department. That is a common-sense limit to free speech. Almost 100 years ago the Supreme Court said that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech.

I thought of that the other day when Google and Facebook announced that they would take what I think is a great first step in purging themselves of fake news by cutting off the access those sites have to revenue-generating or promotional ads. As Reuters reported:

Google said it is working on a policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its AdSense advertising network, while Facebook updated its advertising policies to spell out that its ban on deceptive and misleading content applies to fake news.

As someone who is devoted to the First Amendment, you might wonder why I’m OK with what seem to be limits on free speech. Fake news – or outright lies – are a big source of the divisive atmosphere most of us recognize exists in our country. They’re not hate speech, which I’m actually OK with because it’s so obviously slanted. They’re worse because they wrap themselves in a cloak of truth. As we’ve discussed here many times before, many people – both in business and out – don’t bother to do the research to find out if what’s being presented to them in factual. The presence of these sites and their fabricated BS makes a very difficult search even more so. No, the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump and yet 100,000 people shared that story as if His Holiness did.

By removing the financial incentive to create and promulgate this crap, Facebook and Google are taking a positive step in helping those of us who want to make decisions based on factual material. It’s not censorship; it’s arresting the idiot who’s yelling “fire” for a profit. Hopefully, the next step is some method to annotate and fact check the sites that remain. I also see that Twitter is suspending the accounts of some alt-right leaders.:

In a statement, Twitter said: “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted abuse and harassment, and we will suspend accounts that violate this policy.”

There is no question that Twitter has become a bit of a cesspool and they certainly need to take some actions that clean up the rampant trolling and harassment that goes on. This, however, doesn’t sit as well with me since it starts down the slippery slope of censorship. The difference is my mind is that the fake news folks are making stuff up for profit while the hate groups are expressing (in theory) their own beliefs, however misguided.

Interesting times, aren’t they?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Why I Might Have Unfollowed You

I have been at this blogging thing for over 2,000 posts and 8 years (May of 2008, actually) and I’ve yet to write a political post. Today may be the closest I’ve come although obviously, I’ve used politics to help us appreciate some business points along the way.

I’ve stopped following a few people on Facebook in the last few days, something I’ve rarely done and usually only when the accounts get filled with spam. The folks I unfollowed are people I know personally – I tend not to be Facebook friends with most business associates or random friends of friends. I unfollowed them because this election has brought out the worst in them. I don’t mean that I disagree with their point of view. Many of my closest friends and I hold diametrically opposed political views. I mean that they’ve stopped supporting their views with any sort of facts and are choosing to ignore the facts when they’re presented to them. They are living in the horrible confirmational bias reality that tells them sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are not only OK but the real voice of America as evidenced by this election.

They go on to criticize people for exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble and protest in vitriolic hateful posts. They continue to post outright lies which are easily disproven with a brief search. They dismiss sources such as CNN and the NY Times as biased and won’t believe anything they report, mostly because they disagree with them. They forget that a majority of America voted for a woman and a liberal agenda. Rather than contemplating how to be inclusive of that agenda as we move forward, they post about “taking back” the country, I guess from the majority who voted the other way. They fail to condemn miscreants who bully, threaten, and harm fellow citizens. Their children behave the same way in school. This is shameful, and denying the facts doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

So I unfollowed them. I welcome the opportunity to discuss politics with folks of all sides as long as we stick to the facts and don’t engage in ad hominem attacks. Hypocrisy is a no-no as well (look up what our newly-elected President was saying four years ago about the unfairness of a popular vote win not translating into an Electoral College win and how people should be marching in the streets!). Those are things I try to do in business as well and so should you. In the meantime, let’s remember that our system doesn’t deny the minority party any ability to influence policy (witness the last 8 years of Republicans slowing/changing/denying Obama‘s policies) and that in two years there’s another chance to change things again.

I’m sorry for using this platform to get his off my chest. I hope you’ve not had to unfollow folks and your friends are more rational than some of mine seem to be. I’m hoping everyone will just calm down a bit and work to be the change each of us wants to see in the world while not building walls. I don’t mean on our borders but those between our fellow citizens and ourselves. The people I unfollowed were doing just that and I’m not having any of it. You?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks