Facing your fears

I am afraid of many things, including elevators, rats, high places, speed, and flying. I force myself to face most of my fears, especially if there is what I consider to be a significant payoff at the end of the fear tunnel.

On vacation in Puerto Vallarta last week, I heard about a zip line course that everyone loved. I knew my husband would love this outdoor adventure and decided to give it a whirl at Los Veranos Canopy Tours. As much as I didn’t want to fly between the trees 150 M above the ground, I wanted to do exactly that. In this case, the payoff was knowing that I could do it and telling friends about my accomplishment! Even better, I can show them the video! Watch me soar!

One fear I omitted from the above list is failure. That fear is a handy one to have, as it forces me to stretch for new accomplishments, as with the zip line. It also helps me ensure that I give 100 percent to everything – from my work at Hart-Boillot, to planning a party, or even soaring 150m above the forest floor!

Have you faced any fears lately?

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How much should I spend on marketing communication?

A client of ours – let’s call him M – is wrestling with how to significantly increase lead generation within a tight budget. He told me that in 2007, his company cut its advertising budget significantly, yet leads actually increased. His question to me: how low can we take the advertising budget?

Finding the low line:
Having built market share and a leadership reputation over 25 years, M’s company is able to reduce its advertising spend while maintaining, or actually increasing, lead generation. Obviously, the question “how low can we go?” is bound to come up.

There isn’t a formula to figure out exactly how much you can limit your advertising frequency and reach before target audiences sense that you’re no longer around or start forgetting to look at your products when specifying new designs.

[Read more…]

Social Media and Politics

I had the pleasure of participating in Social Media Club of Boston’s “Civics, Social Media and the Countdown to Election ‘08” on February 7 at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. While I was excited about the meeting, I almost avoided it to hear Ségolène Royal, the former French presidential candidate, who was speaking in the room next door!

The meeting included a panel comprised of Morra Aarons-Mele, political director of BlogHer.org, the largest site for women bloggers, with over 5.5 million unique visitors a month; Joseph Carrabis, founder and chief research officer of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, author of 23 books and over 300 articles, and a master at analyzing marketing, media and customer (audience) behavior; and Robert Boyle, founder of Glassbooth, an organization created to develop innovative tools to empower the American voter. Glassbooth’s first tool, Glassbooth.org, was launched last November and was instantly a critical success – check out this site’s brief quiz and see if your preferred candidate actually shares as many beliefs with you as you might think.

The meeting addressed numerous issues related to social media, including: privacy vs. anonymity, the dark sides of social media, the way social media can extend the news cycle (for better or worse), the lack of issue-based analysis in traditional media in the US, and US journalism vs. global journalism.

Among the many kernels of knowledge and wisdom shared by panelists and attendees (who included some amazing social media pioneers, such as video blogger Steve Garfield) was the fact that research shows that most voters actually did not vote for the candidate who most strongly agreed with them on the issues in recent elections. Apparently, most voters end up supporting the person who presents information in the way that they prefer to have information presented, rather than the person whose beliefs and record most strongly align with their own.

While I find such results depressing, it does support the notion that marketing is critical, no matter what your product, service or message. Some politicians might think, “If I say it, they will listen,” just as engineers might think, “If I build it, they will come.” Until these become true (and it might be a better world if they were), we will have jobs marketing, packaging and presenting information to our audiences, touching their specific emotional triggers and producing the desired behavior. Fortunately for us, in B2B marketing communications, we work hard to translate a message into words and images that clarify the content for the audience, and we aren’t asked to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes!

"Focus on outcomes, not output"

Yesterday I watched part of a customer communications Webinar in which a Gartner analyst used the phrase, “focus on outcomes, not output.” This notion matches the philosophy behind the Franklin Covey approach to time management and goal setting.

All HB-ers use the Franklin Covey planning system. In addition to helping you corral and prioritize your daily tasks, the system includes tools that help you identify your values and establish monthly goals that support each value. As a time management system, the Franklin approach includes a mechanism to help you schedule the important tasks into your week or month (the “output” that will help you achieve your long-term goals or “outcome”).

Have you established any goals for the month (or even the year)? How do you manage your goals and ensure that focus on the desired outcome, not just your output?

Don't waste time tapping your foot

I take two buses in the morning to get to the 296 Newton Street Hart-Boillot Headquarters. This morning, the first bus was almost ten minutes late. This may not seem significant, but in combination with the early traffic, that extra ten minutes meant I watched my second bus whiz by just as I arrived at the stop. I shook my head helplessly, and began tapping my foot with impatience as I waited for the next bus.

By the time it arrived, my foot was tapping so rapidly I’m surprised I didn’t take off and fly to work. I stepped onto the bus and briskly made my way to an open seat. Just minutes later, the bus pulled over and opened its doors to an oncoming passenger. After we’d been stopped for what seemed like hours to my ferociously tapping foot, I peered around the passenger in front of me to see what the hold-up was. Turns out, one single very slow-moving passenger was the hold-up. By the time she made it up the steps, carefully counted out her change from the bottoms of all her pockets, and made her way to an open seat, my tapping foot began to cramp. I was fuming, and couldn’t wait to share this morning’s tragedy with the entire Hart-Boillot office.

To my surprise, I heard very little sympathy from the Hart-Boillot team. To the contrary, Perrin looked perplexed, cocked her head to the side, and asked “What were you doing for all of this time?” Tapping my foot, I thought quietly to myself. “Why didn’t you read a book or listen to a podcast?” she asked. “

Think of all that free time you could have spent on yourself!”  Perrin then reminded me that any free time, no matter how you come by it, is a gift.

Take Perrin’s advice – in preparation for the unexpected on your next commute, whether by plane train or automobile, load up your iPod with a podcast or head to Barnes and Noble and treat yourself to an indulgent new book. Don’t get caught wasting time tapping your foot.

My First Sox Game

Red Sox GameMy husband and I moved to Massachusetts 8 weeks ago from Washington, DC. We’ve spent our weekends being tourists, exploring the North End, the South End, Cambridge, Salem, the Commons and our new neighborhood.Most exciting though, we have already been to our first Red Sox game. I am so impressed with the Boston attitude towards its baseball team. Everywhere I go, Sox gear is sold and at least someone is sporting a Sox shirt. I love the spirit of the fans and how proud they are of their team.The game was amazing. It was the Saturday game against the Minnesota Twins, the second to last game of the season and the day after the Sox had clinched the division. The stadium was bouncing with excitement. I felt like I was part of the game instead of just a fan in the crowd. I think this because the stadium is small you feel everything more intensely – the music, the cheering, and you are practically sitting on top of the person next to you.The most eye-opening experience for me of this game was when it ended. Usually at sporting events, people start leaving the game early so they can beat the traffic. This is not the case at a Sox game. Even after the game ended, we didn’t leave. We all stood there just looking at the field and cheering. I must admit, I was thinking “Is the game already over. I want more.”It has always annoyed me when fans leave early from a game. Are a few more minutes really going to kill you? Show some support.This is why I like Sox fans. They are in it till the end. They never stop showing their support. I think this is something that carries over into their daily lives. This is the type of passion that I am hoping to see everyday from the people of Boston. That they are not only excited about starting projects, but keeping that spirit all the way through to its end.And, yes Kevin, I will happily take free tickets off your hands anytime.See a short video from the game: Download MVI_0618.AVI

Stupid is as stupid doesn't

As a creative person, I have been involved in many brainstorming sessions. Some have been very successful, others – a complete waste of time.

The most successful sessions I have been a part of are when things get out of hand. Structure is lost after three minutes…two or more conversations are happening at once…laughing occurs…and then someone brings up a subject like — Sponge Bob Square Pants.

This is a form of brainstorming I like to call “Stupid Talk.” One person blurts out a phrase like Sponge Bob and it leads to a wonderful and creative concept. I’m not sure why this works. Maybe it’s because, you’re thinking outside of the box. You have no restraints, nothing to hold you back. This is when the most creative ideas come up. Ultimately, when a successful direct mail piece is launched, based on this concept, you can look back and laugh about how you came up with the idea in the first place.

People say, “You are what you do.

“In this case – you say something stupid, but it means you’re smart.

How does that make sense?

What other ways have you brainstormed to come up with creative ideas?

The Pitfalls of Multitasking

Lately, I have been busy – at home, at work – busy! And, as a good modern woman, I try to multitask to make sure that everything gets done. Now generally, I am a big fan of multitasking – it helps me get all my chores and obligations done, and still find time to sit down now and then. BUT, I have seen a hole in the multitasking plan – sometimes you just can’t do two things at once.

I think that in today’s culture there is an underlying theme of faster, better, faster! Multitasking fits perfectly into this sense of rushing through life, trying to accomplish as much as possible in every second. And while its true that this helps – I think we tend to forget that there is value in spending time and attention on something that matters. Moving at the speed of light and doing 3 tasks at once may feel efficient, but often it’s the opposite. And, it’s the beginning of a road that leads to forgetting things, less-than-stellar work, garbled emails, and missing some of the things that are important.

So, I challenge you all to slow down! Don’t slow down to a snail’s pace certainly…but take some time. Re-read that important email before you hit send, take the hour of focused time that you need to do your best work, really listen to your spouse at dinner… It’s hard in the short term, but in the long run, you’ll be happier and more relaxed.

Focus

 

In theatre, a successful and compelling actor is one who consistently stays “in the moment.”  She must maintain a level of focus that enables her to simultaneously ignore all distraction from the world “outside” her performance, and yet respond genuinely to the action onstage as an authentic and compelling part of her world. 

Just as the actor must sharpen her focus to remain in the moment, one who deals often with multiple projects should hone this invaluable skill.  If, when tackling client projects, one stays in the moment as the actor does, ignoring the distractions of the outside world and responding appropriately  to the project  “onstage,” then the resulting performance will similarly be more genuine, valuable, and successful. 

In order to improve my own focus and in turn the value of my performance with client projects, I recently attended this Franklin Covey course designed to help people manage distraction and achieve priorities through improving focus.  I am already seeing a markedly positive difference in my work and productivity.

Check out this link for tips on how to maintain focus while multitasking (a surprisingly difficult skill to master).

Look at the ocean

As anyone who has swung a club knows, golf can be a very mental game. If you begin to think that you can’t hit the ball or get frustrated by a duff, your mind can take over and cause your game to suffer. Last April I had the opportunity to play golf on a beautiful course on a tropical island, high above the sea. A friend started to get frustrated and another suggested, “look at the ocean.” How easy it is to let your frustration take over on the golf course. You can easily get caught up in the frustration of just one bad swing (or five) instead of enjoying the view and sunny weather.Since that round of golf, “look at the ocean” had become a mantra of sorts for me. I find myself using it in a range of situations to step back and see the big picture. I still use it on the golf course, and find that at work it can help me to consider the task at hand within the larger context of the client’s strategic direction or message. Whether I am unsure of how well a particular paragraph works in a press release or concerned about the alignment of an image in a product catalog, this phrase can help me step back and focus on the larger message. What helps you step back and get out of the weeds?