Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It got me thinking – what is IT? I find we are looking for IT all the time in our business; in our concept development and our personnel, but rarely do we find IT by seeking IT. This isn’t a new thought, but I always marvel at the reality behind IT – IT seems to need to be recognized or discovered, rather than invented. I suppose that IT can be crafted, but more often, IT seems to evolve organically; through the right combination of uniqueness, timing and positive perception by influential people.
In being named to the IT list, I’m somewhat curious as to why? Not because we feel we aren’t deserving of recognition, but because I want to know what our specific IT factor is… I want to bottle that stuff up! Or maybe I shouldn’t ask, because as soon as I learn about it, we’ll start focusing on IT, and thereby lose IT. Maybe we should just be happy that we have IT, and leave it at that. I wonder how many more times I can say IT before concluding this entry. It is hard to write about IT, without using the word it while doing so. Try it – it’s challenging.
Anyway, to continue. We’ve got IT, unless I just jinxed us by writing about IT. So, we’ll continue to work hard to keep IT. Thanks to everyone at SoHo, from our team in New York, to our Market Managers and Promotional Staff throughout the country – y’all put the T in Team… and IT!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Dear friends of SoHo,
It has been a while; too long in fact. Since our last post, several seasons have turned, LOST was, well, lost, and a new decade has begun. And as many of you know, there have been many changes at SoHo; we have added some fresh faces as well as some babies to our family!
But, we’re back, and planning to be back on a more consistent basis. I’m sure our multitude of religious readers and company stalwarts have been wondering where we've been? Well, it’s simple. 2009 was a challenging year for SoHo, as it was for many others. We saw a reduction in business, and along with a reduction in business, an unfortunate reduction in staff. For the team it meant longer, harder hours to produce quality work for our clients. And, for me and Jeff, the founders of the company, it meant more time engaged in the day-to-day of the company, and less time on corporate communications and PR. As Jeff likes to say, we spent way too much time “Working for the business, instead of working ON the business.”
This is a key thought to keep in mind for any entrepreneurs out there. Growth can only really happen when you are able to take the time to think about your business, improve its systems, and proactively identify new opportunities and implement great ideas.
It is usually after a spell of these harried times that I remind myself of the URGENT/IMPORTANT quadrants of work, and figure out if my time is being invested wisely. For those of you who haven’t heard about the URGENT/IMPORTANT quadrants, it is not a seedy neighborhood on the lower east side. What it is, is a simple tool you can use to easily prioritize your professional work tasks:
As I’ve take the liberty to color code, you can see that the red, Not Important, tasks are the ones to be wary of.
As you go through your mental checklist of tasks, those that fit into the lower left quadrant and the upper right quadrant should be pretty obvious.
· Submitting Invoices (urgent/important)
· Depositing Checks (urgent/important)
· Deciding the color palate for my next office, which I don’t have yet, or know where it might be (not urgent/not important)
· Picking a theme song for the company picnic, which doesn’t exist (not urgent/not important)
As you might surmise, you will always be focusing on the URGENT AND IMPORTANT things first in life, and are likely not doing anything that is not urgent, and not important. See chart below :-)
The bigger challenge occurs once we get away from those two categories. One can easily confuse urgency and importance. Clients, vendors and associates often need things immediately, and these “last minute” demands can easily overwhelm our ability even to attempt to categorize each task’s importance. Additionally, in some cases, technology has really ‘enhanced’ the urgency of things to the point of dominating over importance. iPhones, Blackberrys, PDAs and other ubiquitous media technology have so come to dominate our daily lives that time for rest and reflection have become as endangered as political moderates. Ask yourself how many emails you respond to immediately that either don’t require an immediate response, or any response at all. We all do it, because for some reason email makes EVERYTHING feel urgent..
As Admiral Ackbar tells us, getting caught in the world of URGENT/NOT IMPORTANT is a TRAP, and often keeps us from getting to the tasks that are truly important, but not urgent.
The lower right quadrant is where the AHA moments reside. It is in this quadrant that we are able to do critical thinking, and get to the work that is truly the key to growth and success. It is where light bulbs go off, relationships are built, and frankly, where the FUN is had.
Urgency creates stress, and stress, over time, can wear you out, and make even fun things hard. So I’ll sign off on this latest (if somewhat delinquent) missive and see if I can focus on the not-so-urgent but critical things I need to do if I, and the admiral, want to defeat the evil empire. Things like writing this blog.
Friday, August 21, 2009
My grandma used to say that a man standing in the middle of the road was a man likely to get run over. If that’s the case, there are a lot of people who should be as flat as a pancake by now. You see, if you don’t keep moving toward the other curb, you will be hit, or at best, cause traffic to come to a screeching halt.
Now more that ever, it seems that decisions aren’t being made; people keep looking for something else to learn or waiting for some new opinion to emerge before putting themselves on the line. Frankly, it feels like decisions and commitments simply aren’t being made, and it has now become more acceptable to do nothing than to risk any accountability whatsoever.
Go ask Axle Rose; c’mon, Chinese Democracy? It was okay, but 15 years to make it? The Beatles put out 13 albums in 10!
So, while some write off this paralysis as a sign of the times, owing at least in part to the worst economy since the Great Depression and an uncertain future, my suspicion is that the trend runs deeper; my fear is that decisions are no longer being made because there is always a chance that (gasp) a “wrong” decision might be made!
People! Let’s get over it. No decision is ever perfect; no artwork, no music, no literature, no creative solution to any challenge or opportunity will ever please everyone. Furthermore, nothing really worth doing comes without risk. We can let fear of accountability prevent us from moving forward in our lives, and in our business. What do Albert Einstein and Albert Pujols have in common; besides the fact that they both love schnitzel? Both conduct themselves in their work unafraid to make errors because they knew/know that they will learn as much or more from what they did wrong as from what they did right.
Our mantra at SoHo? “You either win or you learn.”
While wrong turns are an unfortunate fact of life, we should remember that they are rarely permanent (except maybe a certain tattoo I got in Mexico after a night of mescal with the Mrs.) Anyway, if you want to see the definition of ”wrong turn”, take a look at the path Lewis and Clark took to find the Northwest Passage, I think it is entirely possible that Sacagawea was just making it up as she went along.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that whether it be a marketing choice, a life decision or even a political proposal; we need to grant that that imperfection is certain and that we are all in this together. The first solution may not be perfect but the action will produce more learning than all the analysis in the world. Make sure there are no alligators, and jump in. Our lives depend on it.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Back when I was working in the world of not-for-profit theatre in
For two years I ran a company named Mum Puppettheatre which created wordless, movement based puppetry. Marketing this company’s product – again, wordless, movement based puppetry – was not like selling an iPhone; we had a very niche product and customer base, to say the least.
Whatever your views on theater and puppetry are, let it be known that we were a pretty successful company, and artistically well regarded. Much of our financial success, however, came from our annual production of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams – a favorite children’s book of many.
The first year I was there, the Artistic Director said to me, “We’ve been doing this show for five years… I’m starting to get tired of it… I think this will be the last year.” His tune changed dramatically when we broke our box office record by 50%, so he agreed to do it one more year.
“This is definitely the last one – I just can’t do this show anymore,” he said. Ticket sales doubled and box office records were shattered again.
“We just can’t walk away from this – the company needs it to grow,” I would say, “to subsidize all the other stuff we want to do.”
He acquiesced. We made an agreement that the show would be produced every holiday season, but HE would never perform in it again. He would pass it along to others.
I mention this story, because it illustrates a lesson that I run into time and time again, a truth about marketing, advertising and brand communication. That truth?
The moment when you [the marketer] get sick of saying something about your product or brand for the umpteenth time, is usually about the same moment when customers START hearing and embracing it.
So what does this mean? Assuming you do have a quality product or service, there is a customer awareness tipping point that will be reached with patience, repetition and consistent messaging. Take a quick inventory of the brands or companies that you think are the most successful and meaningful, and I think you’ll find that they say the same thing over and over and over again, and have been doing so for a long time. Contrary to that, I think you’ll find that you can’t name too many that change their messaging every 1-2 years, because their message doesn’t have a chance to stand out, and become successful.
Sometimes it is hard as a marketer to have this patience, to say the same thing so many times that it hurts to keep doing it. Given the outsider’s perspective, it is easy for me to remind clients of this fact, but I know it is much harder when looking at your own brand.
After 4 ½ years of running SoHo Experiential, Jeff and I have started reaching this point in the development of our own corporate identity. A few of the quotes that may have been heard between us over the last year:
“I’m sick of our website.”
“Can we please update our capabilities presentation?”
“We need a new logo.”
“I can’t look at you when we present our credentials anymore.”
“Your voice pierces me.”
“What is that thing you are wearing?”
“Do we have a tagline? Do we need one?”
The compulsion to shake things up, to re-brand, is strong. And, at times when business is a little bit slower than normal (thank you 2009 economy), those compulsions grow into an impossible to ignore siren song which calls you to use your free time to give your brand a makeover.
We would discuss the idea of consistency and patience and, frankly, the best way to invest any “makeover” capital, and we had tremendous difficulty getting outside of ourselves. Plus, we still haven’t become a household name (See blog post on June 2 for more on that). At the end of the day we asked our employees and some strategic partners to look at our brand, and tell us what they thought, in order to help us determine, what, if anything we should change.
We learned that we should make some changes, because we weren’t being consistent with our communications. For example, our capabilities presentation said one thing and looked one way, while our website looked another. So, we’ve spent the last six months upgrading our brand to be consistent across the board.
Hence, it is with great pleasure that we are launching our new website, at www.sohoexp.com. We like it, and hope you will too. Our feeling is that it, plus the other updates we’re making, along with consistent messaging over the next few years, will help us hit that tipping point where many customers will know our name, (and how to say it).
In the end, we had to look to others to better see ourselves. Perhaps, like the director at Mum Puppettheatre was tired of performing, we were simply tired of talking about ourselves.
Please enjoy the new website – if you have any feedback on it, please let us know.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I’m often curious as to how this word came to be part of marketing speak. Was it not enough share everything we learned from a campaign? Did someone at some point have so many things go wrong with a campaign, that their seriously upset client chided them with something like:
“This thing was so fouled up, you’d better not have just learned, you’d better have had learn-INGS. Lots of learn-INGS. This program was so bad that we need to make plural something that can’t be pluralized, so that you can truly appreciate how messed up this was. I feel like I ran into a school of fish that was so unexpectedly and overwhelmingly HUGE, that I had to yell – 'Holy crap – look at all of those fish-ES!!!!'”
Like a diamond forged in the depths of a fiery volcano, it must have taken a extraordinary event, followed by massive client explosion to bring this phrase to be.
Regardless, I think the word is here to stay, and destined to remain a part of the marketing world as long as it exists.
So you all know, if you try to look up “learnings” in the dictionary, you will not find it. In all likelihood, you will find “learning” and see the following definition (among a few others)
1. knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.
2. the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill.
3. Psychology. the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience.
In marketing, it’s really the first definition that we are focused on; that is, if you are willing to believe marketing is a “scholarly application.” At SoHo we are obsessed with learnings; aiming to improve every minor detail or every event we create. Our goal, of course, is to pay attention to details, ensure that clients know we are on top of our events, accountable for what has occurred, and thinking about how to make things better. We think about learnings all the time; but every time I say it or write it, I laugh quietly to myself because it isn’t a real word.
In researching today’s blog, I stumbled on to a funny website, learnings.org; a site designed to kill corporate buzz words. I had no idea that “learnings” was just the one of many corporate catch phrases that make people shudder just a little when they say or hear them.
Check out www.learnings.org to enjoy some fun with overused and/or ridiculous corporate phrases. My personal favorites are:
• Low Hanging Fruit
• Hit the ground running
• 30,000 foot view, aka helicopter view
• Final Final
Until next time, enjoy learning people what you’ve read here.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
MOST PEOPLE I MEET: ExperiENTIAL? What’s that?
ME: Like experience. It’s an adjective pertaining to experience.
ME: Yep. Take the word experience, drop the CE, and add TIAL to the end.
MPIM: Gotcha. SoHo Experiential.
MPIM. Cool… What’s that?
This is an excerpt from nearly every conversation that I have had with anyone I meet that asks me what I do. I tell them about our agency, explaining that we produce consumer experiences that create connections between consumers and brands. They seem intrigued, but this idea still doesn’t quite resonate without some examples. I mention the different types of events that we produce, and it usually isn’t until I mention a common sampling scenario - women handing out free drinks in a bar - that I get a few head nods.
As best as I can tell, the idea of experiential marketing seems to have just recently become mainstream among marketers, so I figure we still have a decade or two before a Experiential Marketing is as commonly understood by the general public as Law, Dentistry, or PHP Ninja. That’s a real job – look it up.
On occasion I meet someone who is interested in how an agency works, how we pitch clients, win business, etc. I enrich them with how an agency responds to RFPs, networks with potential clients, and pitches a lot of work on spec. I speak of fitting programs into small client budgets, squeezing margins, and the necessities of executing a test program. I try to explain the common practice of provide clients efficiencies of scale, even when a program is... well... not being executed to scale.
“So… how do you… uhmm…”
“Make Money?” I say, “Well… it’s like fishing… sometimes you won’t catch anything, sometimes you will catch a little one, and on occasion you’ll land a prize winner… but the bait always costs the same.”
I guess you have to like fishing if you are in the agency world.
I recently came across a video that I think perfectly elucidates the agency world and our relationship with clients, in real-world terms that everyone can understand.
All you agency folks should enjoy… clients, maybe not so much ;-)
Until next time!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
It’s events like these that get us excited, because they’ve been proven to work hard for our clients, and the consumers who attend have a great time. Moreover, it reinvigorates the OCD level obsessions of each SoHo team member. Jeff, for example, will be down in Dallas, ensuring that each person at the event implements his “head on a swivel” event management technique, so that the evening will progress flawlessly. Yaz will likely be steaming tablecloths, straightening uniforms, and arranging flowers so that the event space meets her high decorative standards.
My obsession, however, comes with driving attendees into the event. You’d think it would be easy to compel people to come to an event where they will taste several of the best whiskies in the world for free, but sadly, it’s not. What’s this world coming to, really?
You know what’s even crazier? The fact that less than half of those who say they will attend, actually come out to the event. It’s bananas. So we end up planning for less than half of RSVPs attending, while simultaneously planning what we would do if there were some sort of celestial event that causes everyone to show. It’s never happened yet, but I know it’s out there.
So this week, we’re expecting once again that the math is right, that we hit our goals, and the program launches well.
We’re never worried too much though, as we always can go to plan B: Contract this guy – who gets crowds – guaranteed. You must watch.
We hope you have a great summer.
Stay tuned for more!