The Brand Thing

October 7, 2015

by Roger Pynn

Raise your hand if you are getting tired of everyone trying to tell you what makes a brand successful.

Isn’t that like telling you what it takes to earn a paycheck?

Another one from Advertising Age online caught my eye today because of the headline:  “In Today’s Disruptive World, Brand Heritage Isn’t What It Used to Be.”  But what Nick Clark (executive creative director at The Partners, New York) was really doing was ranting about the Apple Watch in a partnership with Hermes.

Brands are not born out of creativity.  They are born out of the same thing that earns a paycheck … hard work.  Hard work to understand your consumers and what they want.  Hard work to satisfy them.  Hard work to retain them by keeping abreast of what they want.

I agree with Clark that there’s no need for a Hermes Apple Watch, much less the watch itself.  After all, Apple’s iPhone and smartphones in general created a generation that all but abandoned the wrist watch because their phone keeps better time and is tied to their entire existence.  But I won’t abandon my passion for Apple products just because they introduced something I don’t need … and I don’t care that they tried to make their watch sexier in a deal with Hermes (a brand that does nothing for me).

I am loyal to Apple because 99 times out of one hundred they have thought ahead for me and figured out what I need … and they deliver on that promise.  And they give fantastic customer service.  And they have the most helpful people on the planet in their stores.

They work hard at that.  That’s their heritage.

Hot Desking

September 25, 2015

by Kim Stangle 

When I saw this Bloomberg story yesterday about hot desking I had an immediate hunch what they were referring to even though the term seemed to appear out of thin air.

In rowing, we have a term called ‘hot seating’ which is when two crews share the same boat during a regatta.  It’s almost always chaotic, because it typically happens at the dock or finish line without ever taking the boat from the water.

No question that the two terms share a similar concept:  too many people and too few resources.

In hot desking, companies might have 50 desks for 100 employees, knowing that varying schedules would mean everyone would be able to find a workspace during their scheduled office time.

From an efficiency and cost-savings perspective, I get this.  But, then why have office space to begin with?  Co-working spaces have been operating under a similar shared-resource philosophy for years.

Hot desking is being touted as the “new way to work,” but, personally, if I’m going to be sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, I’d at least like to look around and see pictures of my husband and pup.

A Sense of Urgency

September 23, 2015

by Kim Stangle

Customer Service is a topic that’s been written about ad nauseam, but no matter how much we read, it always seems worth it.  Sort of like when you get that extra nudge to drink at least eight glasses of water a day—you’ve heard it before, but the reminder is always welcome.

When we talk about customer service, we’re often focusing on the way we’re treated by other service professionals … did the server smile when she took my drink order or was that product I mistakenly bought returned without a hassle.  Beyond friendliness, one thing that defines good customer service is whether a business and its employees operate with a general sense of urgency.
nullThink for a moment about a time when you were in a store with four or five employees in sight, but only one actually doing the work.  Or at a deli counter with a line of customers 10-deep and the slowest-moving sandwich maker you’ve ever seen.

A sense of urgency doesn’t necessarily translate to literal actions. Even if you can’t get to your customer that second, they should have the feeling that if you could, you would.

Do your customers or clients feel like you operate with a general sense of urgency?  If not, what could you do to improve?

Fahrvergnügen, Meet Iacocca

September 22, 2015

by Dan Ward

Volkswagen is rightfully facing criticism (and a plummeting stock price) after admitting to rigging potentially millions of cars to surpass pollution limits.

The company has admitted that software was installed that switches engines to cleaner mode during testing, but turns that software off again once testing is over. That results in more “driving enjoyment” – the English translation of the famous Fahrvergnügen tagline – but also a lot more pollution.

But the positive sign – at least for those of us who communicate for a living – is how Volkswagen is dealing with the news. Instead of defensive lawyer-speak, U.S. President and CEO Michael Horn used these words:  “Our company was dishonest … we have totally screwed up … We have to make things right.”

And this from the company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn: “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers … To make it very clear: Manipulation at VW must never happen again.”

The VW response reminds me of a story we often share during our Message Matrix® training sessions regarding Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler when that company was found to be removing miles from odometers, selling slightly used cars as brand new.

His comments at the time were surprising, because they were so straightforward.  He said the practice “went beyond dumb and reached all the way to stupid,” adding “I’m damned sorry it happened, and you can bet that it won’t ever happen again.” That straight talk resonated with customers and with media, and is credited with saving his company.

Whether such straight talk will save VW remains to be seen. The company must back its words with action. But they’ve certainly taken the right initial steps to eventually regain their customers’ trust.

Creative Brainstorming

September 9, 2015

by Heather Keroes

Your job title doesn’t need the word “creative” in order for your role to be creative.  That’s one lesson that struck home for me when I attended the PRSA Sunshine District Conference this year.  Hundreds of PR professionals gathered from across Florida to experience an amazing line-up of speakers, including Duncan Wardle, vice president of Walt Disney Company’s Creative Inc., Disney’s team of “creative ideation and innovation catalysts.”

Wardle did not get up on a stage to give a presentation.  Instead, he took our large group through creative exercises designed to push past our own barriers.  Here are a couple of examples that may inspire you and serve as catalysts for your next brainstorm.

  • Start with a Smile – In groups of three, we took turns playing expert and reporters.  And boy, Wardle selected unique subject matter for the experts!  When it was my turn to play the expert, I became a relationship therapist for unicorns.  The result?  The most fun and fantastical “media” interview on the planet.  And bonus, it was a great way to get the juices flowing and incite laughter.  Smiles = relaxed way of thinking = creative thoughts.
  • Say, “Yes, And …” – Question:  Who are the most creative thinkers out there?  Answer:  Children.  But why?  As Wardle explained, when we become adults we think more efficiently and we seek to rationalize.  So when you bring up that next truly “out of the box” idea at your team brainstorm, the chances of it getting shot down are pretty high.  The problem isn’t that others don’t appreciate your idea; it’s that they have already weighed it against a predetermined set of criteria (resources, budget, time, etc.).  We’re naysayers by nature, so instead of saying, “no,” or “yes, but …” try saying “yes, and …” By doing so, you’ll make a good idea even better and encourage others to share their creative thoughts.

Other tips:

  • Give your employees dedicated time to work on “ideation” – the creation of ideas.
  • Hold your brainstorms in different places, not just conference rooms.  See the sun once in a while.
  • Keep the number of participants small for each brainstorm, so you have more time to explore ideas.  Wardle recommended four people as the ideal.
  • Invite “naïve experts” to join your brainstorm.  These experts come from outside your department or profession, so they aren’t constricted by the knowledge and preconceptions your team may possess.  For example, Wardle has invited chefs to join his team for brainstorm sessions that aren’t about food.

Our brainstorm sessions at Curley & Pynn have always resulted in fun ideas (especially when aided by my favorite brain fuel, ice cream), but I plan to start adding some of the above approaches into the mix.  Do you have any unique brainstorming tips?  Share them in the comments below.

Just One Bite.

September 4, 2015

by Roger Pynn

No.  This isn’t a diet tip.

It just struck me today while scanning one of the many sources I read for thoughts on communication, business and leadership that hardly a day goes by that I don’t get at least one bite from the magazines, newspapers, aggregators and blogs I follow … and that single morsel makes the investment of time worthwhile.

The folks who work in our firm – and most others like us, I imagine – probably often feel the pressure to “be billable” … to make sure they are doing productive client work.  And, yes, we want them to do that both because our clients expect it and that is how we remain profitable.

But they are also more valuable to our clients and to us as they grow from experience and from the accumulation of knowledge.  A Harvard Business Review item passed on by the Public Relations Society of America caught my eye with the headline “6 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Presenting.”  I found my bite for the day in four-time New York Times best-selling author Joseph Grenny’s  second step:  “Rehearse, but don’t obsess.”

I present a lot these days and I’ve found myself over-rehearsing instead of, as he suggests, rehearsing just three times:  once when he finishes preparing the talk, then the day before he is scheduled and, finally, a few hours before going “on.”  I like that cadence.

We live in an age of lifelong learning and thankfully technology surrounds us with a classroom without walls.  You don’t need to be a full-time, Web-surfing student at the expense of achieving your assigned responsibilities, but your boss will benefit when you take time to look for an intellectual snack each day.

The “L” Word

September 1, 2015

by Roger Pynn

People in our profession ought to see it as job security that so many articles on success in business are dedicated to communication.  For instance, my inbox today brought one from Forbes and another from Fortune.

On, SnappConner PR founder Cheryl Conner’s item headlined “3 Steps to a Billion Dollar Company” had a parenthetical subhead:  “A Hint: Communication is Key.”  One of those steps was “Tell the authentic story only your brand can tell.”

Fortune published a piece by Halogen Software VP of HR Dominique Jones titled “The single worst mistake that a manager can make.”  She shared a list of things managers should do, beginning with “Communicate goals clearly and often.”

You ought to read both of these.  They deliver things you probably already know, but they are good reminders.  More importantly, both make it clear that communication isn’t just about what you say.  What you hear is critical … which means you have to remember the “L” word.  Listening is just as important as sending messages.

Conner, who was talking about marketing communications, wrote “Figure out what people will want, and give it to them.”  That takes active listening … sometimes in the form of formal research, but in today’s world it more and more frequently is about listening to the countless conversations that go on around us.

HR exec Jones was talking about internal communications.  So what did she say is the worst mistake a manager can make?  Hiring people just like you.  But her remedy is the “L” word:

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring employees whom you can relate to, but building a strong team starts with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of you, the leader, and your team members. 

“By simply listening to what employees have to say and responding to their specific issues, you can provide meaningful feedback that will not only help them in their current role, but also assist them in achieving long-term career aspirations.”

And that would make you the good boss.


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