Thursday, May 21, 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Change

For those of you who are a bit overwhelmed by the rate of change we’re experiencing, here’s more reason to overwhelmed. Did You Know? is a short video based on a concept by Karl Fisch that lists some enlightening facts about our exponentially changing world. For example:

  • 25% of India’s population with the highest IQ’s is greater than the population of the entire US. That means India has more honor students than the US has students.

  • Information doubles every 2 years. That means that for a student pursuing a technical degree, what they learn will be outdated by their junior year.

  • It took radio 38 years to gain 50 million users. It took television 13 years to do the same. It took the internet 4 years, iPod 3 years, and Facebook 2 years to reach the 50 million mark.
Now, I’ll assume Mr. Fisch has his facts straight. I guess I could go to and check to see if it’s an urban legend. But the point is we’re in a world that is changing at a breakneck pace. The amount of information (correct and incorrect) is exploding. The way we get that information (print, online, social networks, and so forth) changes daily. The winners in this race will be those who can best distill the information into “This is what it means” and then “This is what we should do about it.”

For marketers, this translates into helping our companies or our clients articulate why we can solve a problem better than the other guy. It’s not about features and functions or speeds and feeds, it’s about results. And it’s about doing if faster than the competition.

By the way, in the time it took to read this post, 198 babies were born in India. We’d better get busy!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Radar O'Reilly and Client Relations

I recently had the chance to speak to a group of communicators at one of the nation’s largest energy companies. Their leader was trying to get the group to add value to their internal clients instead of just taking and executing orders for press releases, newsletters, and the like.

The guy that came to my mind as a model for a client-focused, action-oriented employee was Radar O’Reilly, the Army clerk on the long running MASH television show. Radar was always one step ahead of Col. Blake, Hawkeye, Trapper, and the rest. He could anticipate what others wanted and, more importantly, what they needed before they could articulate it. I used this acrostic to prove my point:

Resourceful – Radar knew everyone. He knew the supply officer in Tokyo, the motor pool guy in Seoul and the secretary to the commanding general in the Pentagon. Consequently, he could get things done no one else could. How’s your network? Are you spending time growing the people you interact with? And by interacting, I mean giving them a bit of knowledge or a pat on the back or some other “gift” to form a bond with them.

Attuned – Radar listened aggressively and was sensitive enough to know the others’ motivations. What excited them? What scared them? What turned them on? Do you know what motivates your customers? What are their key metrics? How are they evaluated and compensated? Knowing what’s important to them, personally as well as professionally, puts you in a great position to solve their problems and speak to them in terms that mean something to them.

Deliberate – Radar always had everything ready for Col. Blake to sign. All of the Army forms in quadruplicate. All Blake had to do was scribble his name to a requisition or a promotion authorization. Are you disciplined enough to handle all the details for your client and make it easy for them to say “yes” or to sign the contract? Early in my career I worked for an executive that drilled into me the concept of “completed staff work.” That meant, I had done all of the research, presented all the alternatives, had the recommendation and everything the exec needed to make his decision. When we take the concept of completed staff work to our clients, it shows them we’re not only prepared but we understand their business enough to prepare them to make the right decision.

Active – Radar took the initiative to go to his “customers” and make something happen. He set the agenda for most of his interactions with Blake, Hawkeye, Trapper and the others. Do we set the agenda for our clients or do we wait for orders? I worked for the Chairman of the Board at one of the country’s largest energy companies and would ask to see him on occasion. After walking past his attack-trained secretaries, you entered the hardwood floor office, with the Persian rug and massive mahogany desk. It was pretty intimidating. At the end of the desk, facing you was a 3x5 note card that said, “What Do You Recommend?” You knew that if you came to him with an issue, you better have 2-3 alternatives, a recommendation, and your rationale for that recommendation. But he appreciated people who identified a problem and then offered a solution. What if we made it a habit to ask our clients, “What if…?” or “How about trying….?”

Relentless – Finally, Radar didn’t take “no” for an answer. He was results focused and wouldn’t stop until he completed his mission. When we focus on results instead of activity, we’ll do what it takes for our clients. We’ll break down whatever barrier stands in our way. And we’ll earn our client’s respect (and hopefully lots of additional business).

So, next time you think about building close client relations, think RADAR. He was more than the company clerk on MASH. He was the model for making you indispensable to your clients.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Desmond Tutu

Last Sunday, the University of North Carolina had Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, Desmond Tutu as their commencement speaker. He was everything that most commencement speakers are not -- funny, encouraging, challenging, reverent, and irreverent.

This Nobel Prize winning champion of the anti-apartheid movement presented a message of hope mixed with urgency that transcends our current economic slowdown and the dismal job prospects most of these graduate face.

You would expect preachers to be effective communicators. After all, that’s a big part of their job. But Tutu’s address is a template all of us can use in our professional and personal lives as we attempt to get our ideas to others:
  • Connect with your audience – it took Tutu all of 30 seconds to bond with the thousands in the stadium. Once he had us, he never let go. We were captivated and a bit disappointed when he had to end his speech.
  • Humor is the universal language – Tutu’s jokes, stories, and often self-deprecating humor dissolved any age and cultural barriers that might have existed between him and the twenty-somethings in the caps and gowns or, as he called them, those “blue-clad creatures.” At one point he laughed so hard at his own joke, he almost lost his train of thought.
  • Finish strong – I won’t spoil the ending, but his last words to us were more than memorable…they were haunting. As we communicate, we need to leave our audience with an indelible mark that won’t easily wash away.

As the father of one of those “blue clad creatures” I left the ceremony uplifted by Tutu’s optimism and passion and re-energized to be a better steward of what God has entrusted me.

And, by the way, guess who UNC’s cross-town rival, Duke University, had as their commencement speaker that same morning? Oprah. UNC wins again….