Connecting ‘social’ and ‘media’

An Ossning Social

I recently had lunch with a client and a guru. 

The client has made a name for himself in PR with the introduction of the most successful business PR campaign of the past 30 years, Watson Competes on Jeopardy!.   All those appearances made by Watson on Today, GMA, CNN, etc.; that was my friend (and his team). The Nova special, the New York Times Magazine, the Andy Richter’s wife having an affair…  I think everyone would agree the whole thing wouldn’t have happened without him.

And the guru is a semi-retired Ad guy who happened to work in St. Louis for a while, helping to launch a little campaign called, ‘This Bud’s for You’.  After 35 years in advertising, of late as an acknowledged ‘pundit’, our friend contributes to AdWeek and AdAge, popping up on panels and on TV as well.  We met him at the antique place he and his wife run while shooting a Research video (Precision Agriculture) at the farm on that property, Sun Dial.

The best part is, neither are the kind of guys you think of when you think of Advertising and PR types. There’s no trace of MadMen here. There’s no pretense or entitlement.  One thing that does connect them both is music.  They both play guitar, one still dabbling, the other feeling he’s still got the chops.  We just scratched the surface of the musical connections, but the initial jamming has begun.

There’s also an appreciation for architecture.  Both are huge Saarinen fans, with the PR guy working in one of his greatest legacy buildings, Watson Labratories, and the other having a set of six Eames chairs for sale.

I’m psyched that the two have talked about getting together soon without me, so the Ad guy can sit in the library surrounded by ‘the most comfortable chairs ever made.’

We formed a little club that we determined should meet once a month as able.  One initiative is to jam on creative for pro-active development of viral videos for beverage company targets.  Stay tuned!

The Bay Area Media Consortium

Earlier that week, I flew out to San Francisco on a mission to strengthen and define Green Ink’s Bay Area consortium.   I had lunch with representatives of a San Rafael production agency who have agreed (in principle) to become one of the first Green Ink Affiliates.  As IBM acquired our new client, DemandTec, this agency’s client of five years, I recognized that a strong, long term relationship was being disrupted. It would have taken the local company years to become an approved IBM supplier. What would the client want?  They’d want that supplier if possible.  Well, why can’t we be that supplier?  Literally.  We have one new project already that will allow our two teams to work together.

And then, I met the DemandTec clients and introduced them to our long term Bay Area partner-resource. The goal is to bring the strengths of these two suppliers together with another local partner, a legacy Coremetrics supplier, to create a full-service capability to support corporate marketing communications – locally, but with global reach.

After the shoot, I had beers and wings with my videographer buddy and an IBM Research client with whom I worked this year on a well-received, high visibility video: Cognitive Computing.  We talked about doing more projects like this in the future, showcasing not only the Almaden lab more, but IBM’s labs globally.

And then I returned the rental and made the red eye back to JFK.  Nice day.

As the Green Ink global network is further defined and strengthened, affiliates and clients can take advantage of a globally distributed capability, one that is cloud-like in its flexibility and ease-of-access, but that allows for local points of entry.  Our resources have become empowered reps.

So how do you put something like that together and launch it to the world as a definition of the brand?  Stay tuned!

We’re developing the press release.  My Business Partner wanted to know where the ‘news’ is here.

How’s this:

Green Ink Announces Bay Area Consortium

as media Companies define new business models

to best support customer desire for ‘locally grown’. 

With this farm to fork in 50 miles movement, maybe it could go in the ‘restaurant’ section?  Flexible menu:  a la carte, prix fix, or buffet style?

So is that the ‘sizzle’ or might there be an acronym…?  Anyone like the idea of a ‘GIANT’ network?  or maybe GIGANTE?

Can a service mindset be taught?

This is kind of a ‘Service 101’ lecture, but I feel as if I’m talking to myself sometimes, reminding myself of what I believe… but, also, as we try to spread the brand globally, I think it’s good to have some form of reference in place. What should one expect from a Green Ink service representative?  It’s more like handbook content.  Or maybe it’s just a simple refresher course for you?  

If you don’t enjoy doing it, don’t do it.

Have you ever waited tables?  Ever been a desk clerk?  A receptionist? A masseuse? If not, you might not be a good prospect for being a service rep or producer for a production team.  It could mean you’ve avoided working with the public so far because you just don’t have a service mentality. No problem. You’ll find other things to do: count beans, assess the hunting grounds, create the decorations or something equally valuable other than delivering a service with a smile.

A person should be smiling if they want to – not because they have to. If you’re missing an inner joy for whatever reason, then I’d think a service job is not for you. It doesn’t mean people who don’t want to serve can’t be shiny, happy people, but a positive spirit is certainly a prerequisite to the service mindset.

It’s presumed you have to ‘like people’ to be a service provider. I’d disagree. I think you need to respect them. And that can’t be faked.  People especially know when you don’t respect them.  In business-to-business service, the customer – the one with the money and the need – must be served. That’s the respect I’m talking about. They are the boss. They’re the ones who call the shots. I’ve loved that this has become a saying I’ve seen a few times recently: the customer is the reason for our being in business.

My all time most inspiring service provider is a man from Barbados who welcomed us to our rental house as our caretaker:  “I just want to make you hoppy.”  And he meant it.

Reel service…

Video production itself is a ‘service’.  We’re not charging for a ‘video’ per se (a la NetFlix). We’re charging for the service of creating it; of developing a practical approach to production, a winning creative, a sensible schedule… each a step in a customized process designed to create 100% customer satisfaction. Each step in the process is a service.  

A Marketing professor from Tuck said something like, “You don’t need to be your client’s best friend. If you think they need a best friend, buy them a stuffed animal. Your job is to provide them with something that they value.”

If we’re doing it right, our customers will have that same sense of value one feels after having received a great meal from a top chef, an effective massage, or a successfully chartered fishing boat.  I like to think I’ve learned something about service from each of these and so many more services I’ve been fortunate to receive.

Sometimes, we’ve received a service and we don’t even realize til later that we’ve received it.  I think that’s probably when it’s done best.

It’s not about you.

Clients will often love to hear about your past successes and they want to know they’re in the hands of an expert, but don’t assume the client is looking to you for intelligence or entertainment. We’ve all seen sales people who feel the need to convince us of how worldly and smart they are and never once ask what we’re looking for. I know I’ve been that guy, but after 26 years, I’m still working on that one.

Our customers should know they are in the hands of experts who are ready to listen to and understand their desires, and to help them realize them. If they’re already working with you, they don’t need to be impressed by your background. They need to be impressed by your understanding of and support of their needs.

Some tips for better customer service…

Most of these are stolen from somewhere and anyone who knows me knows I don’t practice all of them all the time.  Especially this first one…

1. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth.  Use them in that proportion.

2. A smile and frown are equally infectuous.

3. Input should be acknowledged and clarified at the time of its receipt.

4. The client is not always ‘right’ (and sometimes they’re their own worst enemy), but they should always get what they’re willing to pay for.

5. It’s best to anticipate a client’s questions and provide as many answers as possible before they’re raised.

6. Anything you can do to show you are empathetic to a client’s pain/needs is helpful.

7. If something doesn’t go as expected, be honest and, most importantly, communicate early and often.  There’s nothing worse than a production problem that is compounded by ducking phone calls or trying to gloss over the truth.

8. Under-promise and over-deliver.

9. Put yourself in the client’s position.  What would you want?  Pretend it’s your money.  Pretend it’s your job on the line.

10. Look for areas of common interest with your client, but don’t fake it. You don’t need to pretend you love infants if you don’t.

11. Find out what is keeping your client up at night – what their biggest worry point is – and help them address that in a meaningful way.

So, that’s my blog for today.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing slick.  I hope some of it might be of some service to you.

Now please share your service tips or examples of service that’s inspired you.

 

Twenty years ago today…

The Green Ink brand was born on October 9, 1992.

At 8am 20 years ago, I put on my slippers and padded into my new home office, the front room of a one bedroom second floor apartment in East Norwalk, CT.  My Father had leant me a couple hundred dollars for a black and white printer.   I’d been told by family members that, if became destitute, I could stay with them.

I was psyched to have my own business cards, proud to have my name on my own company.  I’d developed the ‘quill’ logo with a local Norwalk designer and the cards, letterhead and envelopes were ready on Day 1.  I made the conscious decision to use my personal email address, HipsterG, as part of my new business identity.  Having my own business meant freedom to call myself who I wanted, to now wear cowboy boots, to grow a pony tail and a mustache. I was no longer having to represent somebody else – I was representing only myself and my business.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was confident that, despite my lack of formal business education, I’d learned enough about running a media company in those previous six years to not have to work for somebody else anymore.

What I’d realized was that my vision of what an enterprise should be would never coincide with those of my employer.  As much as I appreciated the opportunity they’d given me, I didn’t want to become a junior equity partner in their firm – for a number of reasons, but most of which it wouldn’t have been mine.

My Father used to love to challenge me to think about starting my own business.  “Well, you know, a person usually doesn’t make a LOT of money working for somebody else,” and, “I’ve read that, chances are, if you haven’t started your own business by the age of thirty, you probably won’t.”

I’d turned 29 and I’d been feeling more and more like a trapped bourgeois pig.  I had an ample expense account and a yuppie lifestyle that I’d come to really value, but I knew I’d never be truly fulfilled if I continued the easy path of employment; of not having the responsibilities and therefore freedoms of being 100% accountable for my income.

I’d turned in my company car (a gold Porsche) the week before, bumming a ride to the Hartford train station from a set builder buddy. From that point through the next two years, I was able to use public transportation to cost-effectively travel, discovering that using the train system from East Norwalk was about one third the cost of maintaining a car.

Getting to an appointment that week with my new client at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights was neither quick nor easy, however.  A local train from East Norwalk to Stamford, then a local to Mamaroneck, then a bus over to White Plains train station, then a train up to Mount Kisco, then a cab over to the meeting.  A half hour meeting and a return trip.  A full day of travel.

I soon learned to relish the freedom that taking public transportation afforded me to work and think creatively.  I wrote a lot of songs during these train rides.  I remember the ad at the time ringing true: ‘Your train time is your own time’.

This was the pre-laptop era, but I was able to use notepads to write up drafts of briefs, proposals, and other writings for clients and prospects, actually writing with a pen before typing up my notes when I’d get home.

I’d hit the ground running with two big projects for my former employer already on my plate.  I’d sold them just before giving my resignation, being sure to add in two large buckets for Writer and Producer. These interactive multimedia modules had been the last of my campaign of helping to introduce a new wave of applications to business problems using IBM’s own multimedia development platform.  That platform was abandoned a year or two later as ‘interactive’ development became ‘internet’ development.

I do consider myself to be a pioneer in interactive multimedia application development.  Work I’d supported had been on display at the IBM Think Gallery at 590 Madison Avenue.  I was a panelist at a few conferences.  I remember being up in front of one crowd at the Javitz center telling people all about the ‘information superhighway’ I’d been reading about. Making media interactive was key, and now the delivery mechanism had been developed.  When video could now be played over the internet – and be made interactive – I knew I was in the right profession.

My former boss was grateful that I was leaving on civil terms, not threatening his client relationships, but, in fact, doing what I could to enhance them.  I went after client prospects who had told me that they wouldn’t hire a ‘production company’, but did hire ‘freelancers’ directly.  I’d been hiring freelancers for my company for years and was always a bit jealous of their freedom – and ability to charge what I considered large day rates.

A new, emerging business model allowed internal corporate video production teams to grow and expand according to the requirements – and budgets – of their internal constituents, without having to pay the redundant fees that can accompany layers of unneeded management at a ‘production company’.

I joined a whole crop of day-raters that surrounded internal operations at IBM TV (Stamford, CT), SNET Media Center (New Haven, CT), and Rite Aid TV (Camp Hill, PA), among others.  I found it easy to provide not only my own day rate services, but ultimately, more full service for each of these teams (for example, location videography, editing, graphics and animation), augmenting in-house services with not just writing-producing-directing skills, but whatever else might be required outside.

In each case, I did my best to help the managers of these departments think more like entrepreneurs, as “IBU’s” or Independent Business Units (vs. the money pits they were often perceived to be by the clients they were supposed to be serving).

Even before starting my own business, I’d heeded the advice of mentors who told me I should consider my job to be ‘my business’, to ‘own’ it.  And one very wise man introduced me to the idea of being ‘pro-active’; not just an order taker, but a recommender.  Though this path is one requiring a bit more tact (not wanting to appear overly solicitous or presumptuous), it’s one that has been fruitful for me and helped to differentiate my services from those of other ‘Producers’.

A key to this proactive selling approach is not only being able to suggest to our clients what kind of video they might make, what that creative approach might be, but also being able to know our client’s business well enough to make qualified suggestions on what and how media might best be applied to achieve their goals.  When done well, the client will make your idea their own.  Does it matter who really thought of it if it’s moving forward?

The clients I served were facing a new paradigm and a new challenge: no longer were in-house teams able to remain ‘order takers’; with budget tighteners like Lou Gerstner at the helm, these ‘corporate TV’ centers would have to behave like entrepreneurs – providing value-added agency-type support and treating internal requestors as ‘clients’.

I was fortunate to find an amazing client at IBM TV who welcomed my suggestions.  He knew that the writing was on the wall.  To fail to prove ones ‘value’ to the internal auditors on an ongoing basis (not just at yearly budget reviews) could and would invite closure.  Despite our success in creating a ‘revenue recovery’ center with the studio resources that had been contracted already (about $150K revenue per quarter), IBM TV was shut down in 1994 after the Wall Street Journal ran a story on the ‘cuts that still needed to be made’ by Gerstner.

IBM actually paid more to extricate itself from the contract than it would have cost to let the contract run it’s last two years out.  Perception is everything, and IBM wasn’t supposed to be in ‘the TV business’.   When they were, however, they were saving about fifty percent on production that would have otherwise been outsourced and there was a centralized, consistent approach to their video development.

Thankfully, Green Ink’s model allowed for scaling.  When IBM TV closed in late 1994, I was blessed with a huge winfall being transferred from IBM TV’s ‘internal’ account directly into Green Ink’s.  With IBM TV suddenly out of business, my client was delighted to not have to return the dollars to the requestors, and to be able to fulfill their promised video requirements.  So was I!

The freelancer had become a full fledged production company.

An Old Saybrook house that had formerly been a dentist’s office was now an affordable, more spacious home office environment, one that allowed me to bring in support as needed.

The one drawback of Old Saybrook was that it didn’t have a viable commuter train.  I was forced to give up the freedom of taking public transportation and I bought a used truck.  My life as a ‘road warrior’ continues today, though I’m able to take Amtrak to the city fairly quickly from New London.

I could go through a list of all the people who have been important to Green Ink over the years as resources and employees, but the problem with any list is that someone inevitably gets left off and feels slighted.  Let me say, however, that because of the creative collaboration with those early supporters, those I’ve worked with through the years, and those I consider now to be the core of a growing team, I’ve been able to help deliver quality programs to a long list of clients, 99 percent of whom I’ve truly enjoyed supporting.

I admit that I get a sense of real satisfaction to, sure, have a business that’s now grown to almost 20 people, but most importantly received the trust of a growing number of smart people to help them deliver their messages – to audiences whom I’ve enjoyed helping to educate.

Today, I’m lucky to have a full business partner with whom I proudly share the ever-evolving Green Ink brand; an associate partner who’s commitment to high-end creative development  has been instrumental to our growth; as well as several clients that I now consider as more ‘partners’ as well; people who seem to have as much joy in seeing Green Ink grow as we do.

Of course, none of this could have been possible without the love and support of my life partner who has given council, support and some real sweat to build the equity we now enjoy.

Thank you to all for the trust and continued confidence!

Here’s a list of the addresses Green Ink has had over the years:

An East Norwalk apartment, an Old Saybrook house, an Old Saybrook office, a North Stonington house, a Voluntown house, a Voluntown office, back to the Voluntown house, then 2 Union Plaza in New London and now, The Crocker house in New London.  Nine offices in 20 years; only as much office space as necessary to support the business our clients were looking for.  Our goal all along has been to keep our overhead to a minimum in order to pass on the savings to our clients.

Last week, our latest intern, a third year brainiac from Conn College, issued a press release which was picked up by our local paper.  She is now a PR person.  The Day – Green Ink celebrates 20th anniversary 

The same client who gave me that break at IBM TV 20 years ago commented on the article.  After IBM TV, he became our ‘angel’ for several years in subsequent positions, introducing Green Ink to many of the IBM teams we continue to serve today.  He and his wife moved to the town next door when he retired a few years ago. Maintaining that connection is one of the proudest achievements of my career.  The irony is that I used to deliver the newspaper he once edited in New Britain, CT.

In the next 20 years, I’m hoping to support my team in continuing to build the Green Ink brand through a more solidified network of national and global affiliates.  In business, there are no guarantees, but, if the past 20 years are any indicator, I’m seeing only great things ahead for all of us!