Business Success: Compete with your customers?

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The “democratization of photography” also means that the people who once paid for work by skilled professionals now think they can do it themselves — and thanks to easier and better cameras, often they can indeed produce “good enough” results. What the best strategy now for professional photographers? Top shooter Dave Stock takes stock of the situation. (Sorry Dave, couldn’t resist the awful obvious pun.) Dave’s company, Dallas-Fort Worth-based TeamDSP, serves public and private schools, youth leagues, club teams, and businesses.

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The Digital Dilemma
By Dave Stock

Digital cameras:  the best thing since sliced bread or a threat to our continued existence?
Ask the question and you get a wide range of answers.  Our potential customers have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the new advances, buying record numbers of cameras and smart phones…
What they are not buying in record numbers are prints and services provided by pro photographers!
Simply put, the new technologies are making it easier for our customers to take and print their own high quality images, reducing the likelihood they will buy from us, the working pros.

Remember when your competition was that relatively small group of names listed under “Photographers” in the Yellow Pages?  I started working professionally back in the early 70’s, almost 20 years before the first digital cameras became available to the public.  My first camera, a Konica Autoreflex, was unique in that it was the first SLR camera with auto-exposure capability.  With any other camera, the user had to rely on feedback from a floating needle at the edge of the viewfinder to arrive at a combination of shutter and lens settings that would produce a well exposed image.  It was left to the photographer to mentally sort through the full range of shutter speed/aperture pairings to select the combination that produced the desired result.  What was most important for each subject, each situation?  A fast shutter speed to freeze the action, or a small aperture to yield sharp focus from near to far?

The limited capabilities of those cameras required the shooter to do all the thinking: there was no on-board computer in a chip to help the process along.  And exposure determination was just the beginning of the challenges.  This was long before Nikon came out with the first autofocus camera in 1983.  Ever tried manually follow-focusing a 600mm f4 lens on a running back hitting the hole?  It’s a special skill that had to be developed over hundreds of hours spent squinting into an eyepiece.  And how about color balance?  To do it right, you needed a pricey color meter and large collection of gel filters, held in place in front of your lens with frames of varying thread diameters.

But even then, these “dumb” cameras lacking electronic brains could produce beautiful images when in the hands of the right operator, which is something that the popular consumer cameras from that era could not do.

If our customers had their own cameras back then, it was likely an Kodak Instamatic 104 or something similar.  These cameras had one f-stop, one shutter speed (1/90th), and produced small 1-inch square images on grainy 126 cartridge films.  Most of the pictures produced by these cameras were poor to abysmal and even the best fell well short of the quality coming out of the cameras used by pros at the time.

The net result is that if you owned pro equipment in the 70s you looked like a pro and your photos were going to be far better than those taken by amateur photographers, simply because of your choice of equipment.

Fast forward to 2012, and consider how technology has radically leveled the playing field.  Can you tell the difference between a Canon 5D and a Digital Rebel from across a room?  How about the difference in sharpness and color accuracy between 8×10 prints coming out of the two cameras?  Probably not.  Simply buying professional equipment no longer guarantees that you can produce significantly better photos than our customers can with their own equipment.  Did you know that highly respected pro shooters are now offering three day workshops aimed at pros and serious amateurs using their iPhones for image capture?  The iPhones of today produce far better images than the $20,000+ Kodak 520 DCS digital camera I leased for $450 a month back in 1999!

The first challenge for us as professional photographers is to acknowledge that this threat is real and it is already affecting our industry.  This problem is not going away.  If anything, it’s going to grow larger as cameras of all types, including smart phones, become more technologically advanced while their prices drop.  Digital printers used by our customers will likely continue to improve as well, making better prints more quickly and more economically.  Faster internet connections will make it easier for our customers to send their own images to labs or share their images with friends and relatives, completely bypassing the need to print the images altogether.  What are the implications for us when our customers save money spent on prints by capturing images on their phones before posting them on Facebook to share with others?  Why buy a 5×7 from us for $5 when they can take their own photo, have Costco make them a 37 cent 5×7, or simply save it in a digital album on their phone or iPad?

So what is the answer?    Many in our field respond by lowering the prices on their order forms.  Others focus on adding a wide range of novelty items to their offerings, highlighting whatever is the newest “hot item” offered by their lab or supplier.  Both of these potential solutions represent serious risks to the bottom line, however.  If you lower prices you must lower costs to preserve your profit margin.  Do you achieve this by paying your workers less or reducing the size of your staff on the shoots?   Do you cut corners back at the office, spending less time preparing and enhancing the images before submitting them to your lab?   Novelty items may sell like crazy, but can leave you with less profit if the parent that budgeted $25 for soccer photos to buy three sheets of prints instead gets a single photo statue after seeing a sample at your photo shoot.  Novelties are great if the parent makes an impulse buy, spending more than they initially planned to spend.  If they buy novelties instead of straight prints, you lose because the standard mark up on portrait units greatly exceeds that of most novelty items (magnets, buttons, trading cards, etc.).

We choose not to lower prices, but to entice our prospective customers by offering them more for their money.  A five-star restaurant can’t compete with McDonald’s prices, but they can offer a better experience.  The highly acclaimed restaurant can’t sell an entrée, side and drink for only five bucks and make a profit.  What they can do is create a superior product combined with exceptional customer service in a pleasant atmosphere that easily justifies menu prices that go well beyond the cost of the raw ingredients used to prepare the meals.  Parents with cameras save tremendously by taking their own pictures and having Walmart make their prints.  The challenge for us is to provide a level of quality, creativity and service that will both justify our higher prices and earn their business.

There’s another element in this dynamic that is hard to quantify, but is very powerful.  For most of us, dining out at an expensive restaurant with a recognized chef is a special event.  If you’re like me, you cringe when you see the tab, but you’re willing to pay the price because of the special feeling you have when you’re being pampered by the restaurant staff and you’re enjoying a meal prepared by a master.  It’s this same feeling of being special that we try to give our customers by always striving to produce not only great images but a great customer experience.

Restaurant owners and photographers share the same goal:  give customers what they want, do it better than anyone else and you have the foundation for a successful business.  As a photographer specializing in youth sports, I need to understand what my customers want and why they sometimes feel that taking their own photos is their best available option.

Who are my customers and what do they want most from me?  My customers include anyone either buying, using or benefitting from my products or services.  Parents want great pictures that bring back special memories.  They don’t want to stand in lines.  They don’t want to call with a question or a problem and get an answering machine.  They don’t want to pay for a poorly lit or sloppily composed photo that they could have taken themselves.

High school coaches don’t care as much about quality as they do about their precious practice time.  They want fast, efficient photo shoots and quick delivery of images and prints to yearbook advisors, printers and parents.  They don’t want to deal with problems of any kind:  collecting late payments, fielding parent’s complaints, tracking down missing packages not picked up by kids on the day the photos were passed out.  Youth league board members want the picture day schedule to run on time so that the game schedules are not disrupted.  And like school coaches, they hate getting phone calls from unhappy parents.  Don’t give parents any excuse to complain about any aspect of picture day.

Yearbook advisors, webmasters and program printers require fast delivery, accuracy, quality and organization.  Make their job easier by getting them what they need quickly.  Organize the images in folders, provide names linked to frame numbers, crop group photos loosely to allow designers maximum flexibility when planning page layouts.

In trying to please our customers, we focus on leveraging our people, experience and resources to outperform our competitors, whether they are professional photographers or our own customers.  As an organization, we are obsessive about  achieving quality in five key areas of our business:

1 – The quality of our products.  Our goal is to produce studio quality on location, indoors or out.  We typically use anywhere from two to four studio flash units modified by umbrellas, soft boxes or beauty dishes for each setup.  All images are brought into Photoshop or Lightroom to be cropped and enhanced (sharpness, exposure, color balance, retouching when requested) prior to being submitted to Richmond Professional Lab for printing.  We frequently use multiple 18×27’ tents, each with four lights, for league shoots so that we can control ambient light and work in adverse weather conditions.

2 – The quality of the experience.  Our expectation is that our customers can quickly and easily navigate through the picture day experience without waiting in long lines, dealing with feelings of frustration or confusion, or ever feeling like we aren’t completely dedicated to the task of getting good photos of everyone posing for our photographers.  Keys to accomplishing this goal include having adequate numbers of experienced workers on the shoots, taking multiple photos of each person posing for photos and using highly efficient work flows that best match each worker’s skills with their assigned tasks.  Photographers shoot anywhere from two to four lines of individuals simultaneously, assisted by a team of posers and assistants recording image numbers.

3 – The quality of our staff.  We hire exceptional people and pay them substantially more than what is considered customary in our industry.  Our team members share a common vision, striving to work together and do whatever is necessary to provide an exceptional customer experience.

4 – The quality of our customer service.  Customer service starts before the job is booked and never ends.  We strive to respond to every email and every phone call within hours of receipt.  We offer a “no-hassle” guarantee if a customer is unhappy for any reason:  we will either reshoot, reprint or refund depending on the nature of the dissatisfaction.  Our goal is to consistently go above and beyond what our customers expect and what most people consider reasonable.

5 – The quality of the opportunity offered our staff.  We treasure our workers and endeavor to provide them with a work environment where they feel appreciated and supported.  Paying them well is only a part of the puzzle.  Maintaining a corporate culture where finger-pointing is forbidden and contributions are acknowledged and rewarded leads to great morale and higher production, not to mention fun times working together as a group to overcome challenges.

Evolving technology requires that we keep on our toes and look for new ways to serve our customers.  While the digital revolution has put more powerful yet affordable cameras in the hands of our customers, it has also given us great tools that professionals can use to create unique products that parents will want to buy.  Greenscreen technology, cameras with HD video capture, Internet storefronts, on-site proofing and printing systems and social media all represent but a few of the many new paths we can pursue to grow our businesses.

Beyond that, not losing sight of the basic values that transcend all technological evolution is essential.  There is no substitute for working hard, working smart, continually striving to improve — and always treating people right.



Customer satisfaction vs. ‘who cares?’

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Have you had a customer flat-out betray you, leaving you for the competition right after reporting on a customer service survey that she is “satisfied” or even “very satisfied”?

That’s the question asked by Forbes in its article on customer satisfaction and retention.

“A business leader to wonder if satisfactory customer service is enough to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.”

How can you be sure it is enough? The article advises:

• Letting the customer know you’re happy to hear from them
• Making the customer feel they are receiving something special
• Ensuring the customer knows their business matters.

“These three, somewhat fluffy-sounding customer experience elements are important because the problem of the satisfied-but-not-loyal customer comes down to this: You are always at the mercy of a great big “who cares?” from the customer.”

The full story by a customer service consultant is here.


Market via email more effectively

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Business Success LogoEven with the many social media tools services available, good old fashioned email provides many marketing methods — but how can you best mange them?

The MasonBaronet marketing communications firm in Dallas offers five tips:
- Consistency: Make sure your messaging and content are consistent with other communications.
- Personal: Send the kind of email that can’t be ignored: Know your audience, and use your recipients’ names.
- Quick: Most mobile devices cut off email previews at 35 characters. Incorporate attention-grabbing subject lines and keep the most important messages above the fold.
- Update that List: Pay attention to unsubscribed and bounced recipients.
- Connected: Invite users to engage through your website and social media channels.

The full article is here, with details on the five tips.


Can Instagram drive sales?


Instagram_logo smallAccording to Entrepreneur, Instagram imagery can boost your brand and better your bottom line.

“Instagram is a unique medium for brand advertising unlike any other platform in the social space,” the business site notes. “The visually driven community allows users to communicate in the universal language of photos and videos, opening the world to the possibility of more “humanized” content. Instagram’s growth and reach speaks to its massive appeal to the millennial audience.”

While the article is aimed at “brands” instead of small businesses, its tips can still apply:

1. Users today want content that speaks to their real interests in a genuine manner.

2. Audiences demand personal interaction — they want to speak to another person who understands them and speaks like them.

3. Analytics: Instagram provides a simplistic user experience but provides vast amounts of data regarding users and content generated.

The full story is here.


Business Success: Wait, mental telepathy isn’t perfected?

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Business Success LogoBeing in charge carries many responsibilities — including directing the overall goals of your company. In this week’s Business Success column, Eisen Agency CEO Rodger Roeser tells us how running your own firm means you must take the reigns when necessary.

Thought Leadership and the Big Tuna
By Rodger Roeser

As the big tuna for a content development firm, we are often asked to craft and conceptualize thought leadership campaigns for our clientele. We also often practice it ourselves, as we believe it is a critical component of any good content development and brand development program.

I am the CEO of my firm. Key word: Mine. And with that comes unique insights and expertise that other leaders in other industries may not have. So, as a thought leader I believe it’s critical for the actual thought leader to pen the piece — Not the marketing team.

While I do believe it’s important for the marketing and content development team to review and edit, it’s critical that leadership is constantly looking both introspectively and externally at factors and ideas affecting their business and their industry – and get it down on paper, tape or video. Thought leadership need not be limited by medium, and certainly should not be limited by leadership.

A CEO or other executive, it should be expected, has their finger on the pulse of the industry, and is able to take their knowledge, background and expertise to bring perhaps disparate ideas and concepts together that should objectively push forward an idea or ideal. Thought leadership is exactly what it sounds like, taking the thoughts of leadership and sharing that information. Leaders must lead and, until mental telepathy is perfected, that content must be captured and shared.

And in truth, thought leadership should be simple for an executive, even if they can’t write. For starters, as the CEO, you should have some grasp of the expertise or knowledge you’re sharing — it shouldn’t involve exhaustive research, but instead be unique insight based on your expertise, and where you think things are going. Of course, adding in industry research to back up your thoughts, or real world examples, is helpful. And instead of writing, leaders could do a podcast audio interview, a video, or even a voiceover for an animated piece. I personally love sitting at the computer and penning my latest masterpiece, but as a former journalist I have an advantage some of my C-Suite brethren may not have. But that’s no excuse not to get your ideas down in some form.

Charge your marketing team with forward thinking by reviewing and presenting editorial calendars on topics leadership finds interesting and items you believe will enhance and bolter both engagement from your varied publics and make you look like you know what you’re talking about. Get these editorial calendars from both industry media outlets and other well known outlets that tend to share bigger thinking to get ideas as to the topics industry, mainstream and other business media is interested in. Oh, you don’t have that? Talk to your PR person (or hire a smarter PR firm).

From those topics (and there will be many), review the ones that you believe are going to give you the strongest possibility of sharing content that would be valued by those you wish to digest your content (a la, analysts, potential customers, so on). Waxing poetic about how smart you are, while you’re mom may love that, my not engage potential clients – so whatever you write, write it for the objective benefit of your audience. Thought leadership pieces can be short, with some quick pieces of expertise and advice you wish to share. Lists are popular, such as “The Top Five Things That Will Affect Our Industry Next Year,” or incredibly detailed and research oriented. It all depends on your goals, the time you have to invest (you should invest at least 10 hours a month on development of thought leadership pieces) and what you personally wish to achieve – not for the business, but for you.

You see, most B2B and B2C customer and client engagements are indeed influenced by the Big Tuna. If “they” don’t like or trust or value the leadership, most won’t buy – whether that product is diapers or stocks. Reputation is important. And, as a leader, that reputation can be built, maintained and shaped by quality thought leadership and content development. Once crafted, work with your media relations team to get those published and share them with the world.

You’ll increase your personal stock, help your business and hey, people will think you’re smart. And that, is good for everyone.

Rodger Roeser is the CEO of The Eisen Agency. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, the award-winning public relations and content development firm specializes in marketing communications strategies for professional services organizations. More information is here.

Business Success: Trust, and Zero Crap

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Business Success LogoHow can you turn around an ailing firm? What are the keys to engaging your employees? This week author Lou Solomon reports on how one woman brought new life to a large charity, and how her priorities can also help you focus your management tasks.


#1 Priority all Successful Leaders have

When you meet my client Jane McIntyre, you know instantly you’re with the real deal. She is the CEO of the United Way of the Central Carolinas, one of the largest fund-raising agencies in the country — but it’s not her title that will impress you. She is admired for turning around non-profit agencies in free fall, but it’s not about her reputation, either. She is also a charming woman with a deep Southern accent, but her Carolina drawl isn’t it either.

No, McIntyre is distinctly real because she is full of heart and takes zero crap. You recognize the look in her eyes as the mark of someone who knows who she is — and has the confidence to risk moments of vulnerability. She tells you the truth. She fakes nothing and places trust as her top business priority.

In 2008, McIntyre’s predecessor left her post in disgrace, and the agency in crisis. The local newspaper ran daily stories about her greed and mismanagement, and the community was outraged. Contributions dipped and the employees of UWCC were scapegoated. The scandal was especially poignant as the bigger economic crisis turned darker.

McIntyre, who was heading up the YWCA, stepped up and took the job no one wanted: to bring UWCC back from the edge. At the same time, she became my client — and one of the most colorful to date. She is small in stature but every bit of a red-headed cowgirl who can rope the biggest steer at any rodeo.

McIntyre made it clear to the team at United Way that she would ask a lot of them, and together they would do extraordinary work to change lives. They have delivered because they trust her, which is no small thing in this economy.

We’ve all been living with scandal, crises, and uncertainty since the recession hit in 2008. The majority of employees in this country are disengaged and distrustful of leaders, which can erode an organization’s bottom line. Gallup estimates that employers lose between $450 billion to $550 billion a year in productivity due to employees who lack commitment to their work — and this contributes to absenteeism, employee theft, poor service, safety-violations, turnover, and mediocre work.

After the big banks toppled and entire industries came apart at the seams, the trust rating of CEOs flopped to the bottom of the list, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Only one in five people trust leaders to tell the truth and make ethical and moral decisions. The presence of engaged employees who make companies competitive has slipped to just 30 percent of the American workforce.

At this crossroads, we have to pause and become intentional about the future. Instead of just reviewing cash flow projections, process, and procedures — we have to consider adding trust as a line of business. Crazy amounts of money are pumped into business processes, while employees long for the kind of human connection and common sense that builds trust, grows engagement, and pushes performance.

Three Stories:
We need a new kind of leader who is ready for the rodeo of the 21st Century. The corporate landscape has become a place of so much posturing and over-managed communication that leaders don’t trust themselves to get real.

Before each talk, Jane considers, “What’s the most important thing I should be talking about today?” I can tell you it’s never about statistics and data. Jane knows that people just like her are looking for a meaningful conversation.

There are three stories every leader should know: Who I Am, Who We Are, and Where We Are Going. People need to hear these stories to trust your motives — and you can’t fake it, you have to feel it.

Who I Am is not found on your resume or bio. It is the story of what your life has taught you and the obstacles you’ve overcome on your way to being a leader. One of the many defining stories Jane shares with people is her battle with cancer in her twenties. She tells them that the disease forced her to grow up. She tells them she has not taken one day for granted since. She advises, “You’ve got to live to the max. One day you look up and say, ‘It’s time to go to work.’” People can see who she is and they trust her because she “Walks the Talk.”

Who We Are is the story of defining successes within the organization. Jane is intimately aware of the unique abilities of the individuals who work for her. She doesn’t care about triple-degrees nearly as much as she cares about people who are smart and have the heart that it takes to do meaningful work. She celebrates the employees, contributors, heads of agencies, and clients of United Way. She does it in a way that makes the core values of her organization crystal clear.

Where We Are Going is the focus and vision of the leader who understands the greatest good for all involved. Upon accepting the position, McIntyre appeared on an NPR affiliate talk show and began driving the conversation from scandal to, “What’s important is that the United Way makes a difference to thousands of people in our region and in the community. That message has been lost. It’s time to get the focus back and ask how we can do more for the people who can lift the entire region.” This is no script. McIntyre says it with heart and she says it often.

Can you restore trust in your for-profit organization? The answer is yes, but there are no short cuts. Some leaders come at the idea of building trust with attempts to manage their speeches and financial reports. This is painfully transparent and produces the opposite effect.

#1 Line of Business
Think about a leader, co-worker, strategic partner, vendor, or employee you trust. Why do you trust them? I’ll bet it’s because they are willing to keep big and small promises, and choose people over immediate gain.

Last year Jane McIntyre called me from home to apologize for postponing a workshop for her leadership team. She was laid up after taking a bad fall. She could have had her assistant call, but she was willing to be inconvenienced to honor a relationship. She didn’t consider it un-leadership-like. This is one example of the ways she has galvanized trust over and over.

What if leaders considered themselves the promise-keepers of genuine conversation? If you are to lead well and help your organization thrive, you must rethink putting short-term gain ahead of people — and “see” performance in a new way. Begin with the fact that the people who work with you need a glimpse behind your title — to see your humility and humanity. You must be willing to risk vulnerability.

Strategic Use of F2F
The human connection is a relief valve. Have you ever had a mental resentment against someone, only to have it dissolve when you sat down with them face-to-face? The longer you go without face time, a misunderstanding can metastasize. Without the cues of body language, tone of voice, and facial expression, you imagine a negative tone and suggestion of blame in an email. You make things up.

Within less than one week on the job, McIntyre was meeting one-on-one with every employee before moving to the large contributors, and then to the community agency leaders. No one heard her sugar coat, suck up, or put a spin on the truth. She listened and she laid out her vision, along with what it would take to get there. People were invited to be a part of the positive urgency around the phrase, “It’s time to go to work.” She made it clear that “no” was an option. For those who said “yes” to the new landscape, she extended trust by delegating power.

The world we live in requires that we communicate virtually, but without the “reset” power of face-to-face connection, the trust supply can run out — and anonymity and disengagement will move in like an organizational illness. The culture turns aloof and even rude. Talented people leave and find other work where they can enjoy a sense of belonging in an environment that sparks innovation.

So what do we do when we can actually take advantage of face-to-face communication in meetings? Leaders allow people to open their laptops, disconnect, and check email. They tolerate cross talk, boring rounds of reporting out, and meetings that squander the resource of face time. Research shows that 70% of executives feel the majority of their meetings are a waste of time. How much does it cost for you to pay people to be bored?

There is little more important than the strategic use of face-to-face communication where we need it most. Start with your own meetings. Establish Meeting Agreements that honor people’s time, voice, and contribution. Plan off-site meetings to reset trust and performance.

Where does face-to-face communication fall on your priority list? Too often virtual forms of communication take precedence because they are easier and less expensive. It’s time we soften the lines between face-to-face and virtual forms of communication and stop talking about them as though they’re either/or. The right attitude is to address culture itself as a conversation, and search for ways to apply technology for connections.

Engagement is not a Survey
Engagement is a great buzz word, but most of the corporate world is dragging its feet and putting Band-Aids here and there. We need positive urgency to do the real work of shaping environments that can be the home of innovation. We have to start listening, laying out the vision, and make it clear that “no” is an option. If people are told and never asked, they will comply without buy-in.

Leaders tell me:
• “There isn’t enough time. I can’t connect with everyone.”
• “You can’t expect me to forget about Wall Street.”
• “But the world is too complex today. This is way too simplistic.”

…Yes, the bar keeps going up for great communicators. But we can’t just throw up our hands and say, “That’s it. I’m out.”

To be sure, it’s about balance. Leaders have to make both careful and courageous decisions. You’ll still have to make tough calls. When you do, give people as much information as soon as you can. Share the realities you are weighing and your intention for the best, balanced outcome. Don’t hide downsizing under a flowery name. Communicate with strength, heart, and zero crap.

The human connection is an attitude. Employees want to follow leaders who are strong and competent — but also honest, likeable, personable, inclusive, and regular people. Building trust is difficult and expensive in the short-term, but short-term gains don’t mean too much this time next year.

Leaders and Wall Street along with them have to adopt a grown up, delayed-gratification perspective. Serving shareholders’ interests at the expense of employees and communities is just bad business.

We lose our competitive edge not because we don’t understand business, but because we don’t understand people. Our value begins with the human connections and relationships we have with employees, and pushes out to customers and shareholders.

McIntyre has a way of connecting with the common sense and dignity within people. She leverages meetings, speeches, interviews, and conversations as a strategy for making human connections to drive her agenda. Is any of this easy? No, but leadership in the 21st Century is no cakewalk. As Jane says, “If you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t be in leadership.”

Lou solomon— Lou Solomon is CEO and founder of Interact, a communications consultancy that helps entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 leaders and their teams build authenticity, make connections, earn trust and build influence. She is the author of, “Say Something Real.”



Business success: Why predict failure?

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Business Success LogoIt’s too easy to be a pessimist. But while pessimists fail, at least they were right about that impending lack of success.

In this week’s Business Success article, Alan C. Fox argues that it’s better to better to overcome your possible pessimism, and succeed in spite of it. Fox is the author of People Tools for Business: 5o Strategies for Building Success, Creating Wealth, and Finding Happines.

Alan C. Fox

Alan C. Fox

I’d Rather Succeed Than Be Right
By Alan C. Fox

“I’d rather be right then be president,” said former US Congressman and Secretary of State Henry Clay, Sr. (1777–1852). And right he was. The senator from Kentucky ran for president three times during his illustrious political career, and lost every time.

Many of us, perhaps most, often predict our own failure.  “I can’t climb that mountain.”  “My speech will be terrible.”  “I don’t suppose you’d like to go out with me.”

Why? Simply because it is much easier to fulfill a prediction of failure than it is to actually succeed.

But wouldn’t you rather predict success ten times, succeed five times, and be “wrong” in half of your predictions than predict failure all ten times and be entirely correct?

I for one would rather succeed.

I’ve used this attitude for most of my career. While I’m not always right, I am always confident.  And I end up succeeding a large percentage of the time.

A Sporting Chance
Heck, the highest major league career batting average of all time belongs to Ty Cobb.  His lifetime batting average was .366 (1905-28).  This means that out of 1,000 at bats, Ty Cobb — one of the best hitters of all time — failed to get a hit 634 times out of every 1,000 attempts.

And Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne is reported to have said, “I’ve never lost a football game:  Sometimes my team was behind when the clock ran out.”

No one wins all the time, but you are far more likely to succeed if you go into your next interview (or deal, hearing, or review) anticipating your success.

Early in my career my business partner Harvey and I negotiated for eighteen months to buy an apartment complex.  Several times I told Harvey to give up, but he persisted.  After a year and a half, the seller finally agreed to accept our offer, and the transaction was later completed.  I must admit I learned something from Harvey: to work hard and expect success.  Harvey’s confidence was never shaken, and he had refused to take “no” for an answer.

In a 2013 Los Angeles Times interview, the great orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache (whose clients include Kobe Bryant, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone) was asked if he ever got nervous. “No,” he said, adding he always feels confident that he can solve any problem that arises.

So rather than go with Henry Clay’s approach, I’d rather follow the Queen’s advice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

“There’s no use trying,” Alice said.  “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” replied the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

So why not tell yourself that you can do it—that you will succeed, despite the odds or obstacles?

Impossible?  Not at all.  And before breakfast is a good time to be optimistic.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had an impossible dream, and look what he accomplished.
Henry Clay, Sr., on the other hand, ended up being right—he lost all three of his campaigns for president in 1824, 1832, and 1844.
• Alan Fox is the president of ACF Property Management, Inc, and author of The New York Times bestseller People Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity.  Fox is also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Rattle literary magazine, and he sits on the board of directors of several non-profit foundations. Visit

Business Success: Ambition and Advice

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Chris Wilkinson was only 19 years old when he started what would become a chain of five one-hour photo stores. “Not afraid to think big, he ran that company like a much larger business, developing systems, procedures and strategies you’d find in bigger, multiple-outlet operations,” write the New Zealand Herald.

Now through his First Retail Group, he seeks to add value to others’ businesses by “sharing the knowledge he’d already gleaned from years spent in retail.” Wilkinson says his involvement in the photographic industry, among the earliest sectors disrupted by digital technology, offered him insights he was keen to take into consultancy, the Herald adds. “Photography was one of the first sectors that transitioned with new digital technology, before books or even CDs were affected. That’s really helped us understand how sectors can change and how to manage those changes properly, so we’ve developed a bit of a specialty in working with sectors going through extreme change.”

The full story is here.


Business Success: Don’t stop now!

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Business Success LogoWhatever goals we promise ourselves we’ll achieve, the reality is that the outcome hinges only on our own sustained effort.

In this week’s Business Success advice article, Eisen Marketing Group president Rodger Roeser lays out the steps you need to succeed in your Marketing — or pretty much anything else, for that matter.

Success or Failure in your Marketing Activities

As we near the end of another year we see what became of our well-intentioned efforts to lose weight, get in to better shape, quit smoking, or stay more in touch with family. Is it too early to think of new resolutions for next year?

Rodger Roeser, APR

Rodger Roeser, APR

Resolutions are similar with marketing and public relations: Regardless of the economy, marketing activities are not flash-in-the-pan, quick-fix options, but rather long-term, sustained programs and campaigns that actually yield positive results.

Experts will tell you that the reason most resolutions fail is because they involve sustained commitment and effort. Also, they are often unrealistic in nature – so folks give up altogether. Similarly, good public relations and marketing activities take time and are not a quick fix to your business ills. Finding good publicity angles, creating image and article opportunities, reaching out and sharing that company story or profile — all this takes time, patience and stick-to-it-iveness.

It also takes time and effort to achieve realistic results. One push-up will not make you thin or build your chest. All too often, I see business executives simply increasing sales numbers for no apparent reason except that Excel allows them to plug in a 25 percent in widget sales. It seems solid research and market realities have given way to just plugging in numbers and storming the gates. This is bad practice, and leads to frustration and a lack of business clarity and focus among the employees. Don’t be that executive who says say you want X amount of articles in the newspaper, or any number that appears to be pulled out of thin air, and when those numbers aren’t hit, you’re disappointed. These types of business mistakes are not productive, and surely not good for morale.

A good marketing executive or agency can offer much better and more realistic guidance for these types of numbers, and advise the best ways to achieve those goals. And, like a good personal trainer, help keep you motivated and on track.

Here are four simple steps for your future successful marketing.

1. Get a Plan!

If you don’t have a marketing or marketing communications plan, get one. Do yourself and your business a favor: hire a good firm, and get a plan developed. The investment of just a few thousand dollars may be the best investment you make this entire year. The plan will have realistic goals with realistic prices (You do yourself no favors when you believe you can do a national advertising campaign for $500). A good plan will lay out strategies, tactics, timelines, goals and budgets that should be very easy to follow. The firm should be able to implement the plan, or work with you to share in the implementation duties.

If you don’t have a plan, this is the first and most important step you can take for your business.

2. Stop with the “Magic Bullet”

We all play Monday morning quarterback: surely the coach likely knows more about football than most, but it doesn’t stop people from wanting to share their “ideas.” Same holds true for marketing – rarely are folks short on “ideas.”

Recently it seems there is this great new invention that will revolutionize marketing as we know it and cause all other forms of marketing to wither and die:. Social media. For some reason, all the Monday morning marketers are jumping on the social media bandwagon and putting up any manner of information on Facebook, Twitter, and others – and waiting for the sales to roll in.

While social media and having a good social media plan is important, it is not THE answer. It certainly can be integrated into an overall marketing plan, and blogging and tweeting and friending and updating are all smart – just be realistic and be smart about it. If I ever again hear, “We’re not going to do much marketing this year, because we have a blog now” — I may have to send out the Marketing Police.

3. Keep at It

Regardless of whether your marketing program is grand or modest, continue to work it. Purchase media — billboards are at great prices, and direct mail is a simple, cost effective way to stay in touch and further solidify the brand.

While you must be smart and scrutinize every dollar invested, now is not the time to stop. I had a client that, for all intents and purposes, stopped their proactive marketing outreach months earlier — and now, they have no pipeline, no leads, and no revenue. They’re lack of consistency in their outreach has likely caused yet another business to go under.

Invest wisely, be proactive, and keep at it. Again, a good agency is your best friend here.

4. Change up the Routine

Just like working out, changing things up a bit can yield some quick and dramatic results. Now may be an excellent time to do something different – perhaps an event, a new sponsorship, a cause-marketing initiative, or a podcast. Properly positioned and integrated, new programs can attract entirely new segments of consumers or prospective business partners in a fresh way.

When is the last time you wrote a thought leadership article, or submitted an opinion piece? Take a look at where you may have some holes and fill them; see where the opportunities may exist, and capitalize on them.

Again, if you don’t know all the opportunities you may have, consult an agency. (There is also a great online radio show called “That Marketing Show” that has a top marketing genius as a guest each week, sharing one great tip and idea after another.)

By taking some simple and proactive steps, and hiring an affordable yet quality expert or agency, businesses can look forward to bright future. Now is the time to get out there, stay focused and keep aggressive. Ideas and options are a good thing. Go make some waves.

Rodger Roeser, APR, is the president and owner of Eisen Marketing Group, Northern Kentucky’s largest fully integrated public relations firm. Roeser served as the 2005 president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. He is an accomplished and award winning print and broadcast journalist, and currently hosts Business Focus, an online broadcast news magazine.

Business Success: PR is not a verb!

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Business Success LogoThis week, Rodger Rouser of The Eisen Agency explains just what public relations actually is, which might suggest how your business can better work with a “flack” of your own — and help you get the news coverage that can help your business prosper.

To PR or not to PR:
PR is Not a Verb

This is not an article debating the changing landscape of the public relations or advertising industry, or preaching best practices — rather, it’s an examination of the two simple letters that encompass all that we (as communications professionals) do: PR.

Rodger Roeser, APR

Rodger Roeser, APR

As a public relations professional, I respect that there are some commonplace misconceptions about what “we” do here at our agency, and likely every other PR agency on the planet for that matter. The perception of what we do is made worse by certain reality television shows that make me want to claw my eyes out because of how they insult my intelligence and profession.

There is a significant difference between a PR firm and a publicist. All publicity is PR, but not all PR is publicity.

There are some novel notions around Publicity that I’m able to write off in good humor, including some personal favorites related to the mystique and glamour of the industry, and the all-too-frequent assumption that all story placements occur with the drop of a hat. Why yes, whatever story you’d like to have placed, just call me and I’ll get it in – I have a direct line. When clients say they need me to get them in the paper tomorrow, I quickly grab my ski mask and advise them to meet me at the nearest bank. I find running naked through the streets is also helpful. If only it were that simple to secure press… but I know a few tricks and have certainly been successful at securing solid placement, even in the absence of a quality story.

However, a minor but irritating thing I’ve been asked to do has always left me without a witty comeback. The question: “Can you PR this?” Even my own mother, who, upon hearing about one exciting upcoming project or another, has suggested that I do a good job of “PR-ing” for the client. I suppose I should thank my mom for reminding me to do my job by….doing what I do for a living, but I’ll never understand why she and so many others make those two letters into a verb.

Imagine someone asking a web developer to “website” something. PR is just not a verb, but it certainly is an ongoing action: The ongoing action of relating. Write it out. “Public Relations-ing.” Is that what we do every day? Sadly, I think when some people mention PR, they aren’t even referring to public relations, but instead to a Press Release – but that also makes no sense. “Can you Press Release this?”

This mistake frightens me. To me, the PR-as-a-verb phenomenon signifies a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of our industry, and mitigates the value of our strategy by implying that we exist solely to ‘get stories in the paper.’ If that were true, and that’s how it worked, think about the media landscape for a moment: Every story in every media outlet would be from a PR firm, right?

Of course, this isn’t to say that “PR-ing” doesn’t have its place.  Publicity, as we pros call it, is a great vehicle for interesting characters and stories, but in no way does it encompass the full extent of public relations. Publicity is also not the same as media relations – in fact, I work with some businesses to keep them OUT of the media or to simply maintain good relationships when confronted with an issue. (We call this “closed shop media”).

So again, publicity is part of media relations — which is part of public relations. Advertising is part of public relations. How you were greeted by your waitress today is public relations…

And while we’ll always recognize that publicity is a key component of any good marketing campaign, for an agency or practitioner’s abilities to be equated solely to publicity is a waste of good counsel. You need a great story, a good hook, proper timing, tenacity, the contacts and yes, a little luck. A good stunt now and again is fun, as is a press release duct taped to a pizza and sent to the newsroom.

Admittedly, this is just a rant from a word junkie hooked on technicalities — but it serves as a reminder to the PR-ers of the world that we need to explain the foundations of our practice, which we so often take for granted. Just as we tell newbies that Public Relations is far more than event planning, we must also ensure that our clients recognize that what we are doing is communicating.

So: don’t confuse PR with publicity. You don’t ‘ing’ PR. But, done right, we promise to sING your praises to your public, and get the phones to rING with leads — and if someone dINGs you in cyberspace we’ll be sure to brING out a little PR magic.