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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Going postal: USPS’ "Deliver" magazine

Should the United States Post Office be in the business of promoting direct mail?

Yesterday I received a copy of “Deliver,” the USPS’ expensively produced, 32 page magazine. USPS sends the free bi-monthly magazine to 350,000 marketers.

The business world is moving to a paper-less, digital world, but the Postal Service is trying to promote the value of direct mail and other “innovative marketing tools.”

“Finding innovative marketing tools is a must for any company that needs to promote its brand and products to the consumer,” according to USPS press release announcing the magazine last winter. “Today the U.S. Postal Service is Deliver-ing a magazine for marketers about strategies and trends that are shaping the world of marketing and advertising.”

My view is that the USPS has no business trying to be in the marketing advice business, especially as their advice is grounded in the old print world, which is hardly innovative. That's just a bad use of our tax dollars. Not as bad as the USPS' huge sports sponsorship spends a few years ago, but still rather irresponsible.

USPS should take the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on the magazine and address its real issue: how to create a new USPS business model for a world with less and less mail.

Now, back to getting my tax returns completed....

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Positioning and messaging is not an option

Attention PR directors and agencies: positioning and messaging is not an option.

This week a global company asked us to troubleshoot some marketing problems, including its public relations agency's performance. The national agency has received numerous national awards and been named one of the best in its class, but the client is disappointed after working with the agency for six months.

We looked at the agency's recommendations and plan: the "core" program includes all kinds of tactical things like "media outreach" and press tours and press release writing. The fifth option of the "optional" programs was positioning and messaging, after a list of things like awards, product reviews, and speaking circuit.

The client had opted for the core program, and no messaging or story lines or point of views were ever developed. The agency has been pitching nothing, save for a couple of uninteresting product announcements. Who cares? No one.

If you don't have a story -- lessons learned, insights of value to customers, predictions, customer stories, a contrarian perspective of industry trends -- you don't have the ingredients for a public relations program.

You have to be interesting for people to be interested in you.

So don't buy or sell a heap of PR tactics without positioning and ideas that make the company interesting. Idea voids only lead to failure -- and another black eye on what executives think of public relations.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Candor and Greatness

It always seems ironic to me when something new gets published that links telling the truth to being successful. Surprise! People – that is, employees, customers, anybody -- respond really well when you tell them like it is, including the stuff that’s not so great. They’ll work twice as hard and come up with amazing business-growing ideas if you are real and candid and involve them.

This month’s cover story in Inc. magazine features an excerpt of Bo Burlingham’s new book, “Small Giants: Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.” Too bad it seems to be one or other.

Must it? No, but it takes a special breed of leader to adopt the straight talk, open books, inclusive MO that inspires and motivates employees beyond all other incentives. I know this philosophy works from my firsthand experience years ago working for Jim Mullen, founder of Mullen advertising (now part of communications conglomerate Interpublic.) (I think Inc. was a Mullen client for awhile, as Jim and Bernie Goldhirsch were close acquaintances.)

Way back in the days of acetate overheads, Jim was opening the books and showing us what we spent on paper clips and how profit sharing – which every employee participated in -- was trending for the quarter. We all went back to work knowing exactly what we needed to do to fix something or create something, and we knew how we would personally benefit. The agency was consistently and highly profitable and earned a reputation for strong values, great work and a ferociously loyal workforce. (His book, “The Simple Art of Greatness” -- out of print but available from Amazon -- would make a good companion to “Small Giants”.)

There’s no question, it’s harder – at least in the beginning – to say it like it is. But the good news is, you can start in small ways. As you look at the next speech, employee update, press release or call center script , see if there isn’t a way to say what you need to say with a little more candor, and like you really mean it. Watch what happens. I’m guessing you’ll do it again. (Imagine what might happen if our politicians started behaving this way…)

This post from Janet Swaysland

Friday, February 03, 2006

The ‘hounds digital story

Does this story meet the authentic test?

In our quest to learn how to tell business stories in interesting new ways, Janet Swaysland and I recently participated in a three-day Center for Digital Storytelling Workshop. (Love the group's tag line: Listen Deeply. Tell Stories.)

We learned that stories should be short on words (250 words maximum.) You have to have a reason to tell a story. Every story – even a two-minute one -- has to have some sort of conclusion or satisfying end. Always use the first person.

We also had a crash course on Adobe Element and Premiere software, and learned much from the stories from the other workshop participants – teachers, professors, non-profit activists.

It struck us that the corporate world is behind in this new storytelling technique

Here’s our first digital story. What grade do we deserve?