Stop snacking… time to start eating properly again

Something unusual has been happening in the office over the last couple of months.  After years of seeing the volumes of free-circulation business press dwindle to almost nothing we have begun hearing the thud of magazines more frequently once again.

It started with Print Power, a publication produced by Lateral Group. The blurb at the front says that it is a European initiative dedicated to strengthening the position of print media in a multi-media world. That’s as may be, but what actually hit the desk was an extremely well thought out, beautifully designed and, most importantly, well written publication that not only made it out of the poly bag (got to open it to separate the recycling) but is still here for reference.

And then, starting the new year with a bang, along came the January issue of B2B marketing. I haven’t seen a hard copy of this magazine for a while, which is a pity because it’s a smasher.  Lots of varied content, once again well written, great layout and a tone which didn’t make the reader feel like they were on the periphary of a rather exclusive club, or reading something fresh out of the mouth of a PR assistant.

So, this got me thinking about two things: how important it is for B2B magazines that they are written properly; and secondly how we need to find time to sit, absorb and process information.

Many business magazine operations (and one of the above is not innocent of the offence) have embraced technology and decided that the way to keep their readers and consequently their circulations is to develop regular email newsletters. And then send them out to their database. Every Day.  Event magazine  went even further and sent out two email bulletins a day. Thank goodness they have stopped that.  It seemed like a great plan at the time, but it forgot something very fundamental about human behaviour: that if you give us snacks we will graze rather than engage; and that most people switch off when they feel they are being nagged.

What’s more, readers don’t even have to let on that they have stopped engaging.  While the email administrator always ensures that the unsubscribe information is included, all the recipient has to do is to classify the message as unwanted and it will forever be consigned to the junk folder.

In creating this constant stream of bitesize snippets we have created a culture of having to write something to a timetable rather than to an editorial plan.  In doing so, we resemble budgerigars: saying anything for the sake of it, not because we believe it is something that will interest the recipient or even that they will make time to read it.  So they lose interest, stop reading, and they are off to find someone who they think will give them what they want. Our marketing messages become bland, our products uninviting.

As consumers of information we are not without blame either.  This veritable cornucopia of new media has us flitting from place to place searching out the information we think we need.  But, time to ‘fess up: it’s exhausting isnt’ it? There’s a reason why hummingbirds drink pure sugar…

If we want to make good business/marketing/communications decisions, then we must pause to nourish ourselves with high quality information devoured slowly and with relish.  We must create time to sit down and consider what is in front of us without constant interruption from screen based applications, or the pressure of having to tell an audience of disinterested individuals streams  of minutiae. And noone is better placed to provide this michelin-starred content than the quality end of the B2B press.

So come on chaps… put the chips away and start cooking up some roasties.

hellen @missioncontrol

Should I work for free…

This was sent to us today by a designer friend who is plagued by requests to work for free by the PTA who just want a poster for an event or a mate who is “sure it won’t take you more than five minutes…”

So, if you are a freelancer or someone whose working environment/talents makes you a valuable commodity to all and sundry, here’s a little something to help you decide…

How to decide if you should be giving up your valuable time

Publish and be damned…

Newspaper press running through rollersSo said Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, when the courtesan Harriette Wilson threatened to publish her memoirs and his letters.

Well last month I did publish a book.  Not one that you would be interested in as it was a yearbook for my daughter’s classmates at school, but the process indicates just how far as an individual you can divorce yourself from mainstream business.

With a pretty good knowledge of page layout on Word, a few hints and tips from the publishing website, and a quick trawl of other people’s efforts online, I was able to create 64 pages of homage to the 60ish 11 year olds in her year.  I managed to convert it to a pdf file and after a few attempts load it to the website.  I used a wizard to create the cover and hey presto it was done.

I ordered one and 8 days later, a hard copy that wouldn’t look out of place on a bookstore shelf arrived through the post from the US where the website I used originated and the printing took place. Amazing.  Even more incredible was that if the book had been commercial I could have assigned it an ISBN number and had it listed on Amazon just by checking 2 extra buttons.

Which got me thinking.  Here is yet another business where the customer is taking control.  Suppose you think you have a great novel, you can write it, employ a freelance editor to go through it for you, typeset it and publish it without ever having to go through the angst of trying to get an agent and a publishing deal.

Yes the professionalism and marketing clout these guys will give you is impressive, but there are books that started small, got picked up by someone online and suddenly they are big hits.  And lots of publishers these days seem to think that all people who read books are interested in are the hurriedly written biographies of minor celebrities or teenage footballers.

With online technology delivering so much across geographical boundaries, it is so important for companies to change the way they market themselves and do business, particularly in the B2B publishing and events sector.  Doing the same thing they have always done is simply not enough, because some of us are already doing it someplace else.

hellen @mission control

Tiger or sheep?

Sheep painted with stripes to look like tigersRecent travel disruptions have given us an unrivalled opportunity to observe the human response to adversity on a grand scale.

When faced with a disruption to their travel plans, individuals fell roughly into one of two distinct groups:
Tigers or Sheep.

There were those who, when presented with cancelled flights and an indeterminate delay, took their destiny into their own hands: hiring cars and coaches; undertaking epic overland journeys; travelling via cargo ship; or simply deciding to create an extension to their holiday by going off and exploring something completely different.  For others, the solution was simply to wait and let someone else do the thinking and organising.  Passive by nature, it wasn’t up to them to solve the problem. 

The first group are our tigers, keen to manage their own destiny, anxious to make a change and a difference even if the end result is no different to what it would have been if they had let someone else take control.  The latter are the sheep, who really aren’t keen on making a decision or taking responsibility, they simply want everything to follow the path and plan that they bought into.

At events, it is really important to understand whether your audience is made up of tigers, sheep or a mixture of the two.  Where attendees are predominantly tigers, the onus needs to be on creating programmes which are self-determining, requiring action and consequence; with sheep a clearly defined itinerary with understandable pathways and careful management of expectations will lead to a successful conclusion.  Events that depend upon networking are more likely to appeal to the tigers; those with a tightly timetabled series of learning or experience based sessions will be more satisfying for the sheep.

The Semmelweiss Effect

As soon as we hear the following sentence, our heart sinks:

“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

And we know that there is every chance we will have a fight on our hands.  While it is important to watch and listen to any client organisation, because sometimes the way they have always done something is pretty good, has been developed for a reason and gives benefit all round.   Other times though, it is the surest sign of a moribund organisation where the status quo is given more credence than innovation.

This instant rejection of new ideas is known as the Semmelweis Effect, named after a Hungarian doctor, who in 1847 suggested that by washing their hands regularly maternity ward doctors could drastically reduce the mortality rate of mothers, something he had done himself.  Such a simple idea and yet it was dismissed by the medical profession of the time out of hand.

While many businesses have been launched and succeeded because their founders came up against resistance to their ideas, many more have foundered because they can’t let go of the past and embrace fresh thinking.  But without innovation and the frisson of excitement created by trying something new we would never evolve with our customers or generate new ones.

Manners maketh

This month in Management Today Philip Delves Broughton asserts that manners matter.

While there are some occassions when time is of the essence and barking orders is essential to prevent disaster or dalliance, there is no excuse for using this method of communication for everyday working practice.  Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is a complete anathema to some people, who regard courtesy and politeness as an indication that someone is too ‘soft’ on contractors or colleagues.

In his article, Philip examines how bad manners can permeate an entire organisation, having a detrimental effect on morale and staff retention.  Research by US academics found that after a single incident of incivility, 48% of the sample said that they decreased their effort at work, 38% intentionally reduced the quality of their work, 80% spent time worrying about the incident, 66% said their performance declined and 78% said their commitment to their firm declined.  And 12% left.

And while the figures above are shocking, those which relate to clients who witness bad manners among a suppliers employees are very salutatory indeed.  83% would tell someone about the incident, 55% would look less favourably on the company’s products and services and 50% were less willing to use them in future.

Within both events and marketing, failing to respect and acknowledge fellow professionals can have devastating affects:  when the chippies walk off the site because the site manager shouted rather than investigating the issues that were putting them behind schedule; the waiters who accidentally went the long way around a venue because the event manager treated them with little more than contempt; the junior who found themselves in hot water with their boss because they passed the buck once too often.

To some extent bad manners, and management are often caused by stress and excessive workload, but there are those who believe it is their place to treat their subordinates badly and may not even realise they are doing it.  The latter will only be effected by a complete change of culture within an organisation but the former is easily fixed.  A relationship can be repaired in an instant with an acknowledgement of the distress caused and the use of another simple word – sorry.