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Archive for December, 2008

The best way to spread holiday cheer is singing loud for all to hear. *

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

It seems like every day brings more depressing news from the papers, television, radio, blogs, and other outlets. Coupled with the recent ice storm here in northern New England, things appear pretty dire. Since my power is back on for now, I’m enjoying my third cup of hot cocoa, thinking about the things that make us happy in difficult weather, seasons, and this economy. The first thing that comes to mind is shopping, followed closely by getting a good value, and finally, getting a great value!

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the message from marketers and advertisers that we are going to see more “feel-good” ads. The ads are effective during poor economic times for suspending the malaise of the customer, at least for the brief moment that the products and services are being introduced. Combining the thought of shopping, which feels good with all these “feel-good” ads and we have a confluence of imagery and sound that begs for action. So, imagine how grateful and pleased customers would be if they got a great value for very little or no cost to them.

A typical approach is to offer significant discounts on products, but this can backfire as it may appear that the firm is in financial difficulty and needs the cash flow. Lowering prices gives the appearance of desperation and can lead to backpedaling, or worse. Also, another risk is that current customers may resent both the firm and the new customers, and ultimately the product or service itself as it reminds them of their perceived bad decision. Only significant market strength and flawless execution in other areas can offset this type of mistake. A good example of this was Apple’s reduction of the cost of the iPhone after their most die-hard fans rushed to purchase it first.  Media outlets covered this extensively in the fall of 2007, here is an article from the Huffington Post discussing one reaction.

There are hundreds of little ways that a customer can feel great about their purchase, and more than a few are in the control of the vendor firm, to wit:

  1. Price – decreasing prices is very risky in a difficult economic environment
  2. Assumed or associated risks – including risk of adoption of a solution, risk of replacement, and a myriad of financial risks could be mitigated by vendor firms
  3. Additional or unexpected costs – costs of implementation, cost of carry or ownership, and cost of use are just a few, but each industry is unique and has its own nuances that can be researched and potentially reduced or removed entirely.

Of course, there are other stakeholders in business besides customers; employees are marketing channels “on the ground floor” as they talk to customers, potential customers, and even suppliers. Doing something special for employees pays dividends that multiply throughout the season but also into the New Year.

I mentioned suppliers in the previous paragraph and they should not be overlooked. If a supplier offers a discount for early payment, firms should take advantage of it, its good for the firm and its great for the supplier. In these tough economic times, giving suppliers liquidity can bank some goodwill for later if better payment terms are needed.

You never know, if enough firms actively give during this holiday season, maybe the economic environment will improve, and that will spread the holiday cheer for everyone.

*Apologies to the movie Elf. Copyright New Line Cinema (2003)

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Kevin Flavin has almost 20 years experience in the financial services industry. Balancing the first half of his career as a buyer, he has spent the last ten years as a vendor in a range of roles from sales, product management, but always marketing. He is based in the Boston area. He is also a monthly contributor for the AMA Boston blog.

Don’t retrench. Self-assess.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Build an organization ready for a unified trip into the future. Prepare the hearts and minds of the junior staff to senior level managers during this terrible economic time. I wanted to share one of few bright lights in the economic darkness in today’s “Inside Higher Education.”

It is tempting to freeze hires and cut budgets, but now may not be the time. Adjustments are surely needed. We can learn now from the crisis of higher education endowments and from Bard’s president Leon Botstein as reported at Inside Higher Ed.

Name the programs that should prevail and grow them.  Everyone and everything cannot be treated equally. We can all take a lesson from the endowment debacles of most large universities and the announced plans to cut programs equally across the board.  Think about it: Given the sprawling nature of the large college or university, there may have been no other decision to take. Higher ed is not in the habit of differential treatment of valid programs and less-effective research centers or teaching programs. (Community colleges may operate differently, when current income is by necessity closely tied to program expansion or contraction.)

Set expectations. A college president who has always thought differently, Bard’s Leon Botstein is focused on the current endowment crisis. Importantly, he has already set an expectation within Bard about change and growth, although I expect this dynamic approach has earned detractors as well as supporters. I think Botstein’s wisdom pertains to nonprofits in the present moment. Just substitute “income” for the word endowment in the following:

Institutions should be going through programs, eliminating some, but building others — and spending their endowments to make institutions (themselves) more creative. Operating on the assumption that endowment growth or losses matter “ is a tragedy (says Botstein) that makes everyone risk averse.”

There are three “take away” messages here:

(1) Endowments gave false confidence during good times and promote growth for growth’s sake. As Botstein says, highly publicizing decline on endowment by wealthy institutions may backfire form them. Everyone knows despite the decline the institutions are still wealthy and can afford to be thoughtful about what next.

(2) It’s not possible to produce a responsive and creative leadership group mid-stream. Nonprofit leadership needs to start now to create a culture over time in which everyone buys in to effective strategies for change. Again, this may be a significant cultural change for your and your nonprofit.

(3) Today’s news of broad cuts is a cautionary tale about restricted funds and growth for growth’s sake. In the first case, take the example of creating a program to suit a particular donor) that may be related to mission but taken out of the context of the entire organization’s goals and revenue projections. 

Next steps? How does this translate to nonprofits small or large? Start now to:

-Make it safe for people to look at programs that aren’t working.

-Create ways re-deploy program directors and mid-level managers in shaping new priorities so people are more willing to shed old jobs or outdated roles.

-As the CEO or communications senior leader, be public and consistent in the ways you will encourage growth, self-assessment and change, and the best possible work within your organization.

On the marketing front - John Deveney (Deveney Communications) advises that during times like this, nonprofits can’t afford to miss the target: You must know your audience and carefully pick and implement the social media that will help you meet your goals. Shel Holtz interviewed John recently after he received PR News Nonprofit Award for his work on behalf of New Orleans.

Having done quite a bit of pro bono work on the Gulf Coast myself, I know that the recession visited the Gulf Coast at least three years ago. It takes optimism and creativity to pick ways to promote the city when so much mythology still circulates about its ability to “come back” Could there be a harder PR challenge?

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Bev Freeman is a communications consultant to nonprofits and higher ed based in Boston, specializing in planning and implementation of communications strategies to support fund raising and visibility efforts. Her clients have included Harvard School of Public Health, The Harvard Humantarian Aid Initiative, MIT, Tufts, Oxfam America, Screening for Mental Health, and leadership organizations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (post-Katrina) where she has done visibility work, federal-state relations to keep federal sources of funds flowing to the area, and fund-raising for summer camps and mental health services. Prior to consulting, from 1991-1999 she was public affairs director at the Harvard School of Public Health and also special projects coordinator for Harvard’s provost. She was director of a national infertility counseling nonprofit, RESOLVE, Inc. for 8 years and also has experience in state-level social services.

Social Networking…LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter…Oh My!

Monday, December 15th, 2008

As a marketers, let’s admit it, we love to network!  OK, so I will speak for myself.  All these networking tools are a whole lot of fun!  For the longest time I have been hearing the buzzword Social Networking and not really placing great emphasis on it.  Of course the social networking epiphany didn’t actually happen for me until after I started receiving phone calls and emails as a result of it.  For about 14 years, my career has primarily revolved around traditional and on-line marketing for B2B and B2C companies.  I have many contacts in the industry but have mainly had dialogues around marketing best practices.  This past summer, my career evolved into more of a business development role, and I can’t say enough about how social networking has helped me to be more successful in forming new relationships and partnerships!  Clearly social networking has gone corporate .  The trend has really increased in the past couple months, which is interesting, because that’s when I began really getting into it.   Here are the three social networks I frequent the most and what I’ve discovered about each one.  I highly recommend you use all of them and more!

LinkedIn

Yes, one of the classics.  LinkedIn focuses mainly on business networking, and I have found great connections there.  It is also a great place to keep up with people’s careers.  You’re able to make recommendations and write about the latest projects or business ventures you’re working on.   The profiles resemble resumes, which is great for those seeking employment or finding new business prospects or ventures.

Facebook

Facebook originated as an ideal place for college students to connect.  Over the past years, however, it has also gone corporate.  Although I couldn’t convince the folks at my company to have a presence on it (hello?), I created a profile and am building connections as a result of it.  Facebook is more personal.  It extends beyond just knowing someone on a professional level.  You’re able to display photos of family and friends as well as events you’ve attended with colleagues and friends.  There are a lot of fun applications you can use to “play” with your friends.  I haven’t really checked those out in great depth yet, but they include things like sending a friend a drink or taking quizzes to see if you’re alike.  There are a lot of ads and applications on Facebook.  It doesn’t hurt to check it out to see if it’s right for your company.

Twitter

This one is very interesting (and addictive at times).   Twitter is probably one of my favorites because it’s so amazingly simple!  This simple application enables you to post statements (140 characters or less), whether business-related or personal for all to see.  The way Twitter works as a networking tool is you post items, people will “follow” you if they’re interested in what you have to say, and in turn, you can follow them.  You build your network by following and being followed by people.  You can post URLs of your website, blogs or anything you think may be of interest.  If using it for business be sure to have the user name match the company name for consistency.  It gets really fun when you start getting followed.  For me there is this challenge of building my network of followers.  I have read some great posts and met some interesting people on Twitter.  It’s another great place to plug a new product, blog posting or anything else you feel would help your business. 

There are many social networking tools and web sites.  The walk-away here is to invest your time wisely on the ones that “give back” – whether personal or professional.  Please, always be yourself because people see through that more than ever today. 

Visit my profiles

www.facebook.com

www.twitter.com/ableo2

http://www.linkedin.com/in/annabarcelos

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Anna Barcelos has over 14 years of B2B and B2C broad-based marketing experience, both traditional and on-line. She is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for BLI Messaging, a Providence, RI-based email, voice, survey, SMS and fax technologies company.  Anna is currently a member of AMA, MarketingProfs, and SOCAP. She is also a monthly AMA Boston blog contributor.

AMA Boston Pleased to Welcome Vic Beck Back from Service in Iraq

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

You may remember a series of blog posts about Vic Beck’s service in the US Navy as the chief of media operations in Iraq. Mr. Beck was the Vice President of Communications on the Board of Directors for the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association and we are pleased to have him back!  This article about Vic appeared in the Globe today and is a good summary of his tour in Iraq.

In Iraq, he got the word out

By Susan Chaityn Lebovits, Boston Globe, December 14, 2008
In December 2006, Vic Beck was spending his weekdays working in a public relations firm in Wellesley and his weekends watching his son’s basketball team in Sudbury. But one phone call changed everything for a year.

Beck, a Navy reservist, learned that he had been activated. The following April he was shipped off to the Middle East where he became the spokesman for US Central Command in Dubai. By that August he was the chief of media operations in Iraq, where he remained until he returned home last spring.

As chief of media operations, Beck orchestrated two news conferences each week for Iraqi and international journalists. He was responsible for ensuring that everything ran smoothly - from getting translators and securing satellite uplinks to supplying photographic and video images, and making sure that the participants had proper entry access. He also helped high-ranking military officials prepare for the briefings.

“I had a staff of 85 people, from speech writers to press monitors, so all of the Western media outlets based in Iraq, such as ABC and The New York Times, were able to get what they needed,” said Beck, who holds the rank of captain in the Navy Reserve. He also oversaw the “embed” program, in which reporters accompany troops on patrol.

“When I first arrived, there were mortar attacks every other day,” said Beck, who lived in a small trailer outside the US Embassy in Baghdad.

“Typically there would be a few seconds warning that a missile or rocket was coming in,” said Beck. “You could run to one of the cement shelters, or drop to the ground.”

While Beck admits that receiving the phone call to ship out to the Middle East for a year caught him off guard, he was quite familiar with military life, since his father was a career Navy helicopter pilot. His home in Sudbury, where he lives with his wife and two children, is the only place Beck has ever stayed for more than six consecutive years.

Beck was born in Rhode Island and began his nomadic existence at 6 months of age when his family moved to Florida. Throughout his childhood he moved seven times, Beck said, with his stopovers including Monterey, Calif., and Yokohama, Japan.

Beck attended the State University of New York at Brockport, where he majored in communications, hoping to get into radio. He was a program director for the college radio station, and landed an internship at a radio talk show in Rochester, N.Y., where he’d wake up at 3 a.m. and read through the newspapers searching for interesting topics and people for the morning program’s host.

Two months before graduation, Beck said, he realized there just aren’t that many plum jobs in radio.
“I moved to my parents’ house on Long Island and went back to one of my old summer jobs, moving furniture for United Van Lines,” said Beck. “My life was not how I’d envisioned it would be.”

In an attempt to break into communications, Beck took a sales job, going door-to-door selling Cablevision high-speed Internet and digital cable television services.

“It was an awful experience,” said Beck. “I knew the Navy and decided I’d learn to drive ships for a while and figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.”

Beck began training to become a surface warfare officer, a position that involves coordinating a Navy ship’s movements, operations and weapons systems. When he got his orders to report the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise he couldn’t have been happier.

“It was better than I ever imagined,” said Beck. “It’s like driving a city block, it’s really a floating industrial city.”

Beck’s first chance to put his new skills into practice came in 1988, when a Navy frigate, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, hit an Iranian mine in the Persian Gulf and nearly sank, with a 15-f00t-wide hole blasted in its hull.

“At the time, the USS Enterprise was operating outside of the Persian Gulf,” said Beck. “In retaliation, our planes, which came off the Enterprise, attacked some oil platforms inside the gulf.”

Some of the challenges in helping aircraft take off properly, explained Beck, include maneuvering the carrier to harness the necessary amount of wind to accommodate particular planes.

After serving on the Enterprise, Beck was one of the navigators for a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Richard E. Byrd, and completed a cruise around South America that included training exercises with US allies such as Brazil and Argentina.

“The most interesting area was going through the Straits of Magellan,” said Beck, at the continent’s southern tip. “We were working six hours on and six hours off, navigating around huge chunks of ice.”

Beck spent five years on various ships before being assigned to a shore job, as assistant director of the Navy Office of Information in Boston, which covers all of New England.

“That’s how I got started in public affairs and found public relations as a way that I could go back to my communications days,” said Beck. After seven years of active duty, Beck became a civilian, yet remained a member of the Navy Reserve.

Now that he has returned from Iraq, Beck continues as a reservist, serving one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year in Washington, D.C., working in communications for the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a post now held by Admiral Michael G. Mullen.

Since leaving active duty Beck has worked as the head of corporate communications for a number of companies. Currently he is the director of communication planning and strategy for S4 Inc., which is based in Burlington and has offices across the country, including several military installations. At S4, Beck provides strategic communication consulting for various government organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and private businesses.

“Whatever efforts Vic needed to get the job done, he did, and never complained about it,” said Scott Silk, a friend and former boss of Beck.

“I frequently call on him from my cellphone to navigate me through the streets of Boston, as he knows them by heart - he has a wonderful sense of direction and a great memory.”

Wearing Ten Hats? Can’t Decide Which to Put on Next? Read This.

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Going into 2009, we all are looking for good ways to plan next year’s marketing campaigns. Determining your top priorities is a big challenge when you do this planning. Fortunately, prioritizing your marketing campaigns can be done in less time if you follow a brief set of guidelines.  

Judah Phillips, in an insightful post at Web Analytics Demystified, asserts that the primary criteria for prioritizing web analytics work is: “Is revenue at risk?” Analytics in support of revenue-generating tasks has to be at the top of your list, so when deciding what information you need right now, ask yourself first if any revenue will be at risk if the task is not completed.

This method works equally well for other aspects of your marketing work. Karen Gedney, writing at Click-Z, echoes this viewpoint for email programs. She suggests that, when setting priorities for an email marketing campaign, make sure that everything you spend generates revenue, “and your marketing priorities will arrange themselves.”

If you’re at a small to midsize organization and wear multiple hats, setting priorities is more complex. You may have several priorities on your plate, all of which are revenue-generating. If you sit down at your desk in the morning and have to choose whether to make email, PPC campaigns, social media, PR, analytics, or designing a print ad a priority today, what do you do? The scores of you marketers at start-ups, non-profits, and other organizations where wearing five hats is the norm know what I mean. The more varied the range of tasks you need to prioritize, the more criteria you need to use to determine your top priorities.

Here are five tips for setting priorities in a multi-faceted marketing practice:

  • At least half of what you do in a given week needs to be customer-facing. That means focusing on getting your email campaigns out, tweaking your PPC ads, drafting those print ads, and writing those white papers. You are in the business of communicating your company’s or organization’s message to your clients, and all your work needs to focus on that goal. You may have a lot of work to do that is internal to your company or department, but you must keep the primary focus of your department, namely, communication with customers, in mind.
  •  Do whatever absolutely needs to happen every week first. If you always send out an e-newsletter, work on that early in the week. If a print ad needs to go out by Tuesday, make sure it’s done by the week before. Optional activities, like adding materials to your social media campaigns, will need to be done later in the week. Otherwise, you are always playing catch-up.
  • “Will this shake things up?” At least one thing you do this year should.
  • Incorporate metrics into everything do in such a way that it seldom becomes a part of your to-do list on its own. Part of every email campaign is to check your metrics the evening of day the campaign goes out, and then again one week afterwards. Every morning, you need to watch your web traffic. Every day, you need to see how your PPC campaigns are performing. If you make measurement a part of the whole in everything you do, it isn’t an onerous separate task you need to schedule. This makes scheduling and prioritizing that much more straightforward.
  • Do one thing you really like every day, and one thing that is relatively dull. Don’t schedule all dull days, or you will start to get burnout. At the end of a day doing your least favorite thing, write an article, or design an ad. (Or insert your favorite task here).

Organizing all the tasks before you can seem daunting at first, but it’s actually quite a doable process. Setting your top marketing priorities can be one of the most useful things you can do towards the end of the year. It’s an ongoing process, as well, especially when you are wearing a lot of hats. Thus, starting out with a good list of priorities will pay off throughout 2009.

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Christina Inge is the marketing manager for Spinwave Systems, a Westford-based tech company specializing in energy management solutions. She also serves as marketing and public relations coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. She has over ten years’ experience in communications for both B2C and B2B audiences.

  

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.