Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A tragic reminder to slow down, think

The Japan train derailment struck me on a number of levels. Sadness for those affected. Memories of the by-the-second accuracy I learned to expect and demand while traveling by train in Japan. A wake up call to the frenetic, sometimes thoughtless pace we pursue in business and life.

The train's driver is said to have taken a curve at 100 kph, after running behind at a previous station - for reference, Japanese trains do not run late. I can't adequately express the level of expectation Japanese passengers and the rail operators have for timeliness.

This is a tragic reminder of a very real problem most of us have in our lives and in our jobs: we move too fast, oftentimes at the expense of thinking.

Yesterday, Fast Company's blog related this tragedy to an essay by Jena McGregor on performance and getting off the "treadmill" of expectations.

My response to FC's post:

As a former Japan Rail passenger and current "treadmill" runner, the derailment is a reminder that anyone can run (even run very, very fast), but few navigate. Businesses would benefit from changing expectations to encourage navigation rather than the frenetic, reckless running that has become the norm.

Value thought as much as speed and clients, companies and lives will benefit.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Newspapers pushing info to iPods

I'm not a techie, and I don't have an iPod, but found this article from very cool - and not just because it includes my hometown newspaper. Both the Seattle Weekly and Lawrence Journal-World have downloadable guides for use on an iPod, entertainment and restaurant, respectively. Innovative.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Taking client service cues from the chicken

Great article from Fast Company on Crispin Porter+Bogusky’s work with Burger King. Not only did the article highlight the thought and philosophy behind CP+B’s Subservient Chicken and Bacon Cheddar Ranch campaigns, two awesome client service/client work quotes floated to the top of mind while reading:

1) "Our approach has always been, 'Follow the work,' " says account-services director and partner Jeff Steinhour, meaning if ever you're in doubt about a decision, simply ask whether it's going to make the work better (original article’s explanation).
2) "We've got to be the ninja: Accept death before going into battle," Steinhour says. "You have to be like that if you're going to give it everything you've got for a client."

Another important excerpt: Russ Klein, Burger King's Chief Marketing Officer said of CP+B, "What they helped us do was sharpen and clarify what our brand means.” As client-service folks, our true value is in our ability to be stewards of and navigators for a brand.

Satellite Media Tour relationship disclosure

Interesting article from last Tuesday's Wall Street Journal on Satellite Media Tours and sponsored content.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Enough with the Blogging Already? Hardly

I know a post is good (not necessarily valuable) when it’s e-mailed to me multiple times in a day. Graeme Thickins posted "Enough With the Blogging Already" on yesterday. His main point is that blogging and business don't mix. Not a new concept, just an inaccurate one.

As soon as someone decided corporate blogging is good, someone decided it's bad. Big surprise. Now, society has one more thing to argue about. Why am I joining in the argument? Because I believe blogs are beneficial in the corporate arena and can be great business tools. The trick is being smart, innovative and strategic when developing a corporate blog. It isn’t enough for an individual or a company to create a blog, that blog must make an impact by communicating unique and useful information.

Those that argue against corporate blogging, business blogs and employee blogs normally have the same cache of ammo (Thickins included):
Blogs and business communicate in different voices
Blogs aren't a trusted source of information
Blogs increase risk to a company's reputation
Real-world business examples of the above three points can easily be found. Those examples pale in comparison to the positive effects blogs can have on a company's share of discussion, viral impact and reputation management.

While the blogosphere revolves around the good/bad for business argument, the next leaders in implementing blogs as innovative tools for business communications are focusing on doing biz blogs RIGHT. That's all there is to it.

Yes, everybody is blogging. Everyone is not blogging effectively. It's the job of businesses to make sure those implementing their blogs are innovative and have a strategic direction that differentiates that blog from the scrum.

One shop's take on God and the one night stand

I read the May issue of Fast Company on a flight last night and was absolutely engrossed in an article about the businesses and business practices of Harvard Divinity School graduates. Little known fact: I wanted to be a Methodist pastor. I love theology and church history, but was rerouted somehow...still figuring that out. I also love to follow branding firms and the work they do. I was excited to find the article "God and Mammon at Harvard" - it's not yet available online, but is worth a trip to the bookstore.

The article highlights the ethics and business practices of HDS grads that didn't go on to pursue a church-related career. Especially interesting was the profile of the branding strategy firm Kindred Keziah, founded by HDS grad Sanford Keziah. Awesome company, doing innovative work rooted in ethics.

As I looked through the site, I was drawn to this phrase: The one-night stand brand. This appeared in a 2002 newsletter, and has great relevance and application to any company that plans to rebrand, as well as communicators that support that branding process.

Keziah and his wife/business partner sold KK recently, but have started a new venture. I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


How good is Malcolm Gladwell's new book Blink? I stayed home last night (Friday) and devoured a good portion of the first half. Wow. No matter what profession you are in, if you interact with other humans you should read this book. More on how Blink is reiterating previous learnings on client service and human interaction, but I'm headed out to make up for a lost weekend night.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I have to brag

The Baker Orange, the college newspaper I proudly edited so long ago, again was named top newspaper in its class at the recent Kansas Associated Collegiate Press convention. This is the sixth time the Orange has won the top award in eight years - quite a force. Kudos to the current staff and its talented adviser Gwyn Mellinger.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth has been top of mind for me lately. WOM has found its way into client discussions, brainstorms and industry reading, thus inking a spot on my marketing communications short list. That said, I was downright joyous when I stumbled on presentations from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's 2005 Summit.

I was especially impressed by Jonathan Carson's Measuring Word of Mouth presentation. Key takeaways:
1) WOMunit: "A single unit of marketing-relevant information" - I'm going to use the heck out of this term.
2) Great examples of WOM stand-alone success and success in conjunction with other strategies.
3) Measuring WOM's impact through a WOM receiver's actions.
4) Humility: The association understands the importance of setting goals, identifying its weaknesses and addressing growth.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Convergence and Lawrence, KS

NPR's Morning Edition aired a story on the media convergence occurring in Lawrence this morning. Big time credit to The World Co., which owns the city's newspaper and television station, and the very big-city thinking it’s done to produce a model for online, print and television convergence.

The site also contains a link to photojournalist and friend Bill Snead, and his "Parched Prairie" project.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Seth Godin asks "What's the always?"

Inspiration is a great way to start a Monday morning.

I just read Seth Godin's blog on coming up with the next big idea. Godin starts by identifying the "always" in a situation and then coming up with ideas that run counter to the always. The "never," as he puts it.

I normally roll my eyes when people come up with catchy inspirationisms. This pessimism comes from watching too many great philosophies never make it past the paper they're printed on. Corporate slogans, office pep rallies, etc. make me cringe UNLESS the inspirationisms truly represent the culture and actions taken by the group that touts them. But when I read Godin's "always" post, I was hooked because of its ease of use.

Finding the "always" isn't a slogan or a catchy idea. It's not an excuse for inaction as many slogans and schools of thought are: "I don't have the copy written for this project because I've been busy thinking outside of the box."

Finding the "never" is simple and easily applicable to anything.

Too much inspiration for a Monday morning? Here's a remedy.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

More on Absent Presence and iPods

Found a post on Fast Company addressing the importance of “bling,” or looking cool when compiling iTunes play lists on a shared workplace network. Though I take a guilty pleasure in rummaging through my coworkers' iTunes, I was interested in the author’s comments on the "iPod affect" on an iPodder's awareness of his or her surroundings.

I wish I had coined the term "absent presence" and written the official definition years ago, but I must track the work of others and watch this topic explode across the globe. At least I can attempt to be a part of this sociological and technological trend.

Check out Andrew Sullivan's comments in The Times to learn more about the growing "iWorld."

Tech talk while waiting for BBQ

Last night I was waiting in line at my favorite barbeque joint, which happens to be nestled in a gas station and next to a liquor store (one convenient convergence Wal-Mart will never one-up), when the woman behind me noticed the obsessive attention I paid to my BlackBerry and struck up a conversation about technology. Her premise was that technology is taking over our lives...I closed my eyelids and rolled my eyes at her comment. She was fired up about television coverage of the Pope's funeral, stating that it was intrusive. I argued that while I don't want my own funeral covered, I understood the reasoning behind worldwide dissemination of the funeral of such a figure.

She continued talking until I ended the conversation by saying, "Sorry, but I need to reply to this e-mail."

I got my ribs to go and headed home, thinking about the positive and negative affects of technology on my life.

Top three technologies, positive and negative.

+1) Internet - check e-mail, bank accounts and the box scores of my favorite Japanese baseball team at any hour of the day.
+2) iTunes - my generation's mixed tape.
+3) Laptop - I've never been without a laptop for personal or professional pursuits, since my sophomore year of college.

+/- The BlackBerry - a true love/hate relationship.

-1) Television - now that college basketball is over and the West Wing has completed its season, I would love to end my home cable contract. But then I’d miss Family Guy reruns….
-2) Digital camera - I miss society's love for and dependence on print photos. Sure, you can print your own digital images, but I find it easier and more gratifying to drop off a roll of 35mm at the grocery store.
-2b) Digital cameras that add the digital sound of a shutter opening and closing.
-3) Online-only customer service - I'm finding an increasing number of service-oriented sites that provide customer service online instead of via phone. Many sites no longer offer a phone number, requiring customers to send an e-mail or post an instant message.

Friday, April 08, 2005

I write, right?

Two thank yous are in order. First, thank you Jeff Risley for reminding me I haven't posted in a couple days. And thanks to my blog for providing me with an outlet for creative writing. It's an outlet I'd been missing.

I used to write all the time. I wrote concurrently for two newspapers during college. When I was in Japan, I sent a large list of friends and relatives a lengthy e-mail every week for one year (my first foray into blogging). And not to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty proud of the national fiction writing awards I won as an ambitious English major. Somewhere between graduation and Friday April 8, 2005 I stopped writing for enjoyment.

My first job out of college was as a copywriter for an ad agency. I thought I'd found the best of both worlds: I love writing, I love receiving a paycheck. And though I enjoy the public relations writing I do daily, I miss broadening my keystrokes and sharpening the creative edge that I so important to good professional and creative writing.

First order of business: I'm going to spend this weekend with two pieces of literature that provided inspiration (creative and professional) years ago: On Writing by Stephen King and How I Write, an article Garrison Keillor wrote for The London Times.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The focus of my eyes and ears this week

Here's a mid-week break from the norm: Five things I've got my eyes and ears on.

1) Harper's Magazine: Harper's Index is a great tool for becoming/pretending to be the smartest person in the room.
2) Teitur: Buy his album now before everyone tries to burn you a copy.
3) Yoshida Kyodai: Japanese brothers + traditional Japanese instrument = your next CD purchase.
4) The Time Traveler's Wife: A friend encouraged me to buy this before a flight and (though it took a little time) I'm now a fan of this incredible character study and love story.
5) 2005 Pulitzer Prize: No matter your political persuasion or daytime job, awardees of this prize possess something that is inarguably incredible.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Coffee and customer service

A morning doesn't go by when I don't miss "my coffee shop." I commuted from Lawrence to Kansas City for about three years and I stopped by La Prima Tazza for a soy latte each morning. It was as much a part of my routine as putting on my shoes and letting the dog out.

Situated on the north end of caffeine-saturated Massachusetts Street, La Prima Tazza was seven coffee shops away from my house. It was and remains my favorite, not because of its brew (excellent) but because of its service. What made me drop four bucks once (and sometimes twice) a day? The answer can be found in the three keys to all good customer service:
1) Know your client
2) Stay one step ahead of your client
3) Reward your client

1) Know your client: The baristas at LPT value memory as much as milk-frothing skills. That knowledge made LPT part of my life, not just a stop in my morning.
2) Stay one step ahead: I rarely had to order my drink – the espresso was pulled and the soy poured when I walked through the door. Instead of repeating an order each day, we talked about more important things. When the to-go lids were gone due to a delayed shipment, I was told of the situation before I had a chance to ask where they were.
3) Reward your client: LPT understood the power of investing in a relationship. In a given week, I'd spend roughly $20. At least once a week, one of my drinks would be free or the barista would throw in a scone. Reward for a currency greater than money: loyalty.

These three keys are as applicable to an agency or firm as they are to a coffee shop. I've yet to find a coffee shop in Kansas City that makes me feel the same way, and would bet the cost of a soy latte that I won't.

Customer service

Our firm just returned from its annual retreat to Branson, MO. Instead of seeing Shoji Tabuchi and Yakov Smirnoff, we talked about client relationships and the state of customer service. Two days of reflection on the ways we interact with our clients, the unfortunately low expectations society now has for customer service and ways we can do our part to raise those expectations.

I'm going to write more about this topic, but wanted to pass on an experience that highlighted an important takeaway from our retreat discussion: take the time to explain the route, even when it's easier to state the result.

My washing machine stopped spinning last week, forcing me to wring out sopping wet shirts before throwing them into the dryer. When the novelty of this wore off, I called the GE maintenance shop and scheduled an appointment. The repairman arrived this morning and immediately knew what was wrong: The toggle switch that presses the thingy down when the door is closed fell off (ironically, he found it in the tub), thus failing to tell the spin function that my hand/head/dog was not inside the tub and it could begin spinning at a high rate of speed. Easy enough.

I went to the other room to continue working. When he was finished, he called me over and went through the features of my washing machine, showed me some troubleshooting maneuvers in case x, y or z happened, then showed me how he fixed the toggle switch.

As most people know, my attention span is small. I had coffee brewing and an e-mail draft to complete, and I really didn't care how he fixed it, or how I might clean out the tub if it were to clog. Then I realized that this interaction was a perfect example of good client communication.

Yes, it would have been faster and easier for him to say, "Your washer is fixed, have a good day." But I wouldn't write a blog about that. Instead, his explanation of how he arrived at the solution and his time spent on the extras made me feel good, smarter and like a valued client in his day of multiple-appliance repairs.

A gentle Monday reminder of a mentality to live by: don't just state the result, explain the route.