Saturday, June 25, 2005

What if you were going to die today?

Click on the headline (or here) and you'll go to Steve Jobs's commencement address to Stanford's grads last month. One part really hit home for me (though it does look a bit sensationalist in this post's headline).

"If today were the last of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"

Great way to start the day. Really.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Decisions, decisions...

"If there's one thing we humans abhor," says Jerry Useem in the June 27, 2005, issue of Fortune, "it's uncertainty."

(To see the article, click on the title of this post.)

"For modern decidophobes, business is a bad hiding place. Strategies, careers, companies - they're all made of decisions the way glass is made of sand. The quality of your decisions is what makes you valuable. And the hardest ones roll uphill: A CEO's job, it's been said, is to make the decisions that can't be delegated."

For all of you out there sitting on your hands, read this piece. And remember what Napoleon (apparently) said (Useem opens his article with it): "Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Recruiting, searches, and finding the right person

The LPGA has hired its new commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, formerly the CEO of a media company (Initiative), before that one of the top people at USA Today.

Here's Golf's story.

There have been (and remain) several high profile searches in golf. Besides the LPGA commissioner's job, Jim Awtrey's position, for instance, at the PGA of America is open. Before that, the U.S. Ryder Cup captaincy (which went to Tom Lehman). Not to mention that all those candidates whose names are mentioned - or "floated" - for these types of jobs ... where are they going to go?

I've just finished DisneyWar by James Stewart, which is basically a story about dysfunctional management at the Walt Disney Company and ABC. Made me think: how can we be sure we're hiring the right person, that so-and-so is the right fit? [I doubt that she is, but...] What if Carolyn Bivens is a crook?

I posed this question to Andrew Mackay, founder of On Course Recruiting, the only golf-specific recruiting company I know (and a recent customer). (You can see his new website here.)
Andrew Mackay
"Shoe leather," he answered. "Or, cauliflower ear, anyway."

Seems nothing replaces beating the streets - or the phone lines - he says. "I call everyone I know, go through the whole six degrees of Kevin Bacon," he says, referring to the parlor game popularized by the book (and movie) about degrees of separation between the people you don't and the people you do know. "I try to present not one, but two candidates as my 'picks.' That way, my client chooses the one who's likely to fit not just the company's culture, but his or her personality as well."

Another friend, Andy Brusman, of Westham Capital Partners in Richmond, says the final litmus test for him is a round of golf. "I can learn everything I need to know about a person's character by playing a round of golf with her."
Andy Brusman

What if the candidate doesn't play golf?

I say, "Then why would you want to hire him?"

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Branding and positioning

I came across a insightful piece today in Advertising Age. (You can find it here.)

Al Ries, the author, makes a considered plea for more brands to carve out their distinctive territories based on being "first," and he gives loads of good examples. "First" doesn't have to mean, literally, the first. In other words, the iPod wasn't really the first MP3 player; the Wright brothers weren't really the first to fly; and Henry Ford wasn't the maker of the first auto. But their positions were those of pioneers - the "first" - because they were the first to go to market that way.

Softspikes captured the first position in plastic cleats, and they never let go. Those guys used to worry about becoming the generic name for the category. We at BURRIS argued that's exactly where they wanted to be.

First in the mind of the customer. That's a great place to be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hurry up and wait...

Last week, bored and online in a meeting at a customer location, I received two urgent emails from different top execs at the same company. Could I meet with them as soon as possible? They wanted to produce a project and it had to be done by the end of the month.

The meeting the next day at their headquarters lasted for two hours, and they briefed me on what they wanted and wanted to communicate.

I hustled to work up my notes and get a brief pricing proposal out to them first thing the next day, got ready to ask several helpful suppliers to scramble their jets, and then the waiting began.

On the next day there were a couple of emails and voice mails back and forth, mostly clarifications. No green light.

On the next day - the fourth day - we received a new budget number, lower. "Can you do it for that?"

"No we can't. But we can do it for this," I said.

"Okay, I'll see about that." No green light.

To make a long story short, today, a week after this fuse was lit, they shelved the project out of budgetary concerns, in spite of the fact that our cost estimate was actually under the budget maximum they told me about in our first meeting.

False alarm.

At BURRIS we currently have four proposals pending, all of which had fast turnarounds when they were requested. We took less than a week to turn around each of them, and now, as I write this, all of them are gathering dust and have been for more than 20 business days. Another three proposals are less than 7 days old, and I can only hope they don't end up in irons too.

I write a good proposal, I think. I put a fair amount of energy into defining the project, the objectives, and I work at pricing to win. It's not that someone else is being awarded these projects. It's that the urgency at the beginning isn't still there when it's time to actually begin.

A result of knee-jerking? Second thoughts? I honestly don't know.

Hurry up and wait.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Projects vs. Clients

In this space I have on several occasions mentioned that I'm much more focused today on bringing BURRIS projects rather than clients.

"Clients" suggests longer term relationships, and having been in the business of thinking that every customer would likely work with us forever, I thought there was little need for us to have a planned new business effot. I told others that the best new business program we could have would be to grow our clients' businesses 15-20% per year; then, theoretically, we would grow 15-20% per year.

But that was a theoretical world, and it just doesn't work that way any longer - for BURRIS or for anyone in our business, maybe in any business.

I bring this up again because last week I was in front of a significant new business prospect, and I went through the distinction I make between the terms in the title of this post. You know what a "client" is, but a "project," I told him, has a beginning and an end. It is likely to have its own marketing objectives and maybe even a budget for execution.

I told this prospect that we strive now for projects, not clients, because the illusion of "forever" isn't, well, an illusion any longer.

"But we're looking for a long term relationship," he said, "not a project relationship." What did I have to say about that?

I stood by my comments, but I added something that went like this:

"Nothing would make me happier than to work with your company for a long, long time. But if we do, it will be because we execute every project, meeting your objectives, schedule and budget. So I prefer to think that you'll continue to work with us as long as we do a good job for you on every project."

No illusions there.

I haven't heard yet if we're hired. But I'm looking forward to the first project.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Who owns an idea?

This lead paragraph from a page 6 story in the May 30 ADWEEK caught my eye:

"Hilton Hotels' insistence that agencies sign away ownership of their pitch materials in order to participate in its review has reignited the longtime industry debate about the value that clients place on creative ideas and the lengths agencies will go to win a piece of new business."

For months we've been trying to move our compensation back near the beginning of the customer relationship, where the "ideas" flow, rather than continue with the more traditional "advertising agency" approach, where you give away the ideas in order to win the implementation work.

Implementation is important. In fact, one of the best books I've read in the last several years was Larry Bossidy's and Ram Charan's "Execution." But implementing marketing plans based on faulty or incomplete thinking is no fun, it's not profitable, and we certainly add little value.

Pay for the ideas. Bid out the implementation.

Here's another way of looking at it. I really don't blame the Hilton folks for asking; it's the companies who agree to terms like this that deserve our disgust.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

"The World Is Flat" 2 - the "self-directed consumer"

I wrapped up my reading of this powerful "brief history of the twenty-first century"; there's just so much I could report to you. But one thought from Thomas L. Friedman is on my mind today, largely because so much of our current work is web-related.

In the Part 2 section, the chapter "How Companies Cope," Friedman identifies his "Rule #3: And the big shall act small... One way that big companies learn to flourish in the flat world is by learning how to act really small by enabling their customers to act really big."

Companies that collaborate with their customers - Friedman identifies Starbucks, E*Trade and others - compete better because they make "their busienss, as much as possible into a buffet. These companies create a platform that allows individual customers to serve themselves in their own way, at their own pace, in their own time, according to their own tastes. They are actually making their customers their employees and having them pay the company for that pleasure at the same time!"

This is my favorite: "Companies that were paying attention understood they were witnessing the birth of the 'self-directed consumer,' because the Internet...[has] created a means for every consumer to customize exactly the price, experience, and service he or she wanted."

I'm thinking of PerryGolf and the way PG's "Plan Your Own Tour" allows the customer to do his own trip, from courses to hotels to pricing. Cool. In fact, I noticed that Gordon Dalgleish, one of the PerryGolf founders, also wrote about Friedman's book on his latest blog. Gordon writes about his company's lack of legacy systems, which might have kept Perry from doing all it does now in the area of customer service.

Drop your legacy systems. Read this book.