Friday, December 14, 2007

Current TV - Entertainment v Message

It turns out I inadvertently addressed a real issue for the folks at Current TV. I was asked to make a promo for them as part of their New Icons series: I had to go to and then tell a webcam about my experience on the site.

I had expected to become engaged with videos about the global warming situation (well it is Al Gore’s company) or with some other deeply meaningful cause. But instead I was completely entranced by a video of a fellow in The Netherlands who has a pocket full of remote controls and who surreptitiously uses them to turn off TVs in public places – during the soccer finals. Chaos and desperation ensues as the fans try to figure out why their match has disappeared and our hero just moves anonymously on to the next set of victims. Yes it was irresponsible – but it was utterly hilarious.

So this is what I told the webcam - and this, it seems, is Current’s issue (and not only theirs). How to make good and important causes entertaining enough to divert us from such frivolity. You can see my video on Current TV on December 14th.

See the final edited video.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Selling Statement for a film director

This talented film director had left a career making TV commercials to write and direct a Feature Film (which incidentally had some very big stars in it - we were impressed!) and to shoot TV shows.

Now he wanted to find a new balance in his career between feature projects and TV spots. He needed to reintroduce himself to the ad agency and production company market, so he asked Pollock Spark help him to develop a Statement defining his style and to craft a presentation that would get him back into the competitive world of TV spots.

Here’s what the director said of Pollock Spark's work: “This is terrific. I really like the Statement … Seems very sellable to me, easy for a rep to remember and for an agency to repeat to a client.”

This is what we all need - a simple statement of our value proposition. And it is not easy to craft that for yourself - seeing yourself as others see you is very hard.

UPDATE 3/28/08
He's been booked solid for the last eight weeks - see what he says.

Pollock Spark works...

...For a successful 22 yr old animation company.

Under new ownership, this company wanted to know where it stood in the marketplace, how it was perceived by its advertising agency clients and what it needed to do to reach new levels of success.

Pollock Spark was able to reach out to the company's former clients and potential clients. These senior ad agency creatives told this independent interviewer things they would never tell the company or its reps. We learned some things that “surprised” our client and were invaluable in formulating a new strategy. The learning and the analysis, inspired by Pollock Spark's insights, led to a retooled strategy for the company and a new marketing plan.

“I am excited about moving forward” said the owner after spending a day absorbing the results.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Green Clutter or Social Awareness

Most US consumers think of themselves as environmentally friendly, according to an Environmental Leader article citing BBMG's "Conscious Consumer Report."

In addition to being eco-friendly, nearly nine in 10 US respondents self-identified themselves either as "conscious consumers" or "socially responsible."

That contrasts with respondents who self-identified themselves as "green." About two-thirds of respondents in the BBMG study said that the term described them "well," and 18% said it described them "very well."

"In a world of green clutter, conscious consumers expect companies to do more than make eco-friendly claims," said Raphael Bemporad, partner at BBMG. "They demand transparency and accountability across every level of business practice."

Thanks to emarketer who sent us this information. And to Greenpeace for the image.

Barry Diller's Mouthfuls

Barry Diller, recently the nation's highest paid executive, is breaking up his

"While we have created a lot of value," Mr Diller said, "I have always believed that our complexity and many mouthfuls of sentences to explain who we are and what our strategy is have hampered clarity of understanding with all our constituencies, including investors."

Could this be true of your company too?

Win-win for a brand and a cause

A powerful and productive partnership was created when our sister nonprofit The Cyrano Project introduced Carissa Phelps and filmmaker David Sauvage to Virgin Mobile.

The no-contract wireless provider screened a special preview of a moving new film about Carissa's harrowing young life on the streets and in the motels of Fresno. Directed and produced by Sauvage and executive produced by Davis Guggenheim (Oscar winner for "An Inconvenient Truth") --it was shown at the Virgin Mobile RE*Generation Art Gallery Auction and Benefit in New York in November.

The downtown art crowd was there, young and beautiful and buying art for the cause of
Youth Homelessness. The nonprofits who work on the streets with homeless kids were there - there are about a million teens and children on the streets of the US today. And VM staffers were there - telling anyone who'd listen that they are so proud to work for a company that does this.

To learn more about the artists whose work was on sale you simply had to dial a number on one of the fantastically decorated VM phones that were on display.

It was terrific branding for VM, whose prime customer is young and who empathizes with the plight of these homeless kids.

The event raised money and awareness for the cause, it was great entertainment and made complete sense as a brilliant branded promotion.

I should add that VM has sponsored Congressional legislation making November,Youth Homelessness Awareness Month and Carissa - a phenomenal woman who is no longer on the streets and has just earned a law degree and an MBA - is their national spokesperson. So this thing has legs.

There must be a perfect cause for your business. Let us help you find it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Museum of Creative Process

So we were driving innocently through the wonderful Vermont fall countryside when we spied a sign that told us that a couple miles further on we would find the Museum of the Creative Process.
Well, well.
I said that I thought it would be a lot of people sitting around looking desperately at blank pieces of paper.
My wife thought it was the house of a graphic designer who never threw anything out and whose wife told him in exasperation that he should charge people to come and see the mess.
Sad to say we never found the Museum.
I think the sign is all there is. It started our creative processes and left us to come up with our own ideas - though admittedly not brilliant ones. All process and no outcome - ah well.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Okay - personal story from yesterday. A perfect example of brilliant cutomer relations (CRM) leading to great Word of Mouth (WOM). This is how it should be done.

My shaving oil was melting parts of my Gillette Fusion razor blades. So I wrote to customer service through the Gillette website. They are now P&G of course. I got an email back from them within hours. And it wasn't one of those automated : "We-got-your-email-and-you-are-now-in-the-system" emails. It specifically addressed the particulars of my issue: they are sorry; they are sending me a new one; oils are not recommended - they suggest gel or foam; and here's the capper:

"Because of the unusual nature of this situation, our quality department would like to examine the used portion of the product. I'm also sending postage-paid mailing materials you can use to return the used portion to us for examination."

Now this is truly responsive customer service. I am enchanted and impressed.

By last night I realized I had told this story to three people as an example of how brilliant Gillette/P&G are with their customer service. So the Word of Mouth was working full blast. I guess that makes me an influencer.

In a nutshell there is all we need to know about taking care of customers - even when they have a problem - so they will become our advocates.

"Mo||erf||ker, A Movie"

Last year I was advisor/mentor to a very smart young filmmaker called David Casey as he was making a film about a notorious and influential New York rock and roll party.

Here is what the Village Voice has written about the film:

Motherfucker I'd Like to Film
A new doc touts New York nightlife as it should (and might not always) be
by Annie Fischer
October 9th, 2007 5:37 PM

The documentary opens on the train. Director David Casey and crew are headed to the apartment of Motherfucker's Michael T, who answers the door in a robe and leads them to the bathroom to witness, in his words, "the transformation of Michael T." It involves a confidence that his party has become known for: a queeny, cocksure swagger that comes from the decision not to take the shit you took as a kid, he says. It also involves assloads of blush.

To hear his fellow Motherfuckers tell it, Michael T is the "mother" of the group, which has been producing balls-out dance parties where guests dress to impress—like, really, if they want to get past Thomas Onorato at the door—in Manhattan eight nights a year for the past six, specifically on national holidays, for New Yorkers who either can't afford to leave the city or just don't want to. And to hear Michael tell it, Johnny T is the father—or at least the "cool uncle who does a lot of good stuff but sometimes screws up." Georgie Seville serves as peacemaker. Justine D represents the scenester. Together, the quartet serves as the muse for Casey's latest film, Motherfucker: A Movie, which debuts at the CMJ Festival next week.

According to Casey, who recently moved from New York to San Francisco to work for Al Gore's cable-television network, Current TV, the project grew out of a failed attempt to document the "rock 'n' roll genesis of 2000"—the musical takeover by the Strokes, Interpol, etc.

"Within 18 months, that whole movement had been swallowed up—they'd all gotten pushed out or signed," says Casey. "But I was hooked on doing something regarding the immediacy of New York. I'd interviewed Justine D in regard to the earlier project, and Motherfucker made so much sense. We would be able to shoot amazing, beautiful, really professional stuff in a short amount of time—in seven months, from New Year's Eve 2005 to July 3, 2006, we shot four parties. And then I also conducted 152 interviews myself. I wanted to talk to everybody I could about the changing landscape of nightlife in New York: Moby, Andrew W.K., Tommie Sunshine, Tricia Romano, etc. They had to be done quick, because with documents of nightlife, you either want immediate or 20 years down the road. You know, look what you could be doing now—or look at what you missed."

In this case, it's the former. Motherfucker is still going strong: The most recent party took place at Eugene on Labor Day. And the movie, which clocks in at just over an hour and a half, succeeds in showcasing its continued spirit—the drag queens, the drugs, the dancing. But the administrative obstacles faced by New York's nightlife crafters continue to grow, and despite all the look-how-fun footage, that sense of gloom provides an undercurrent for many of Motherfucker's interviews.

There's also an obvious frustration apparent when talking with Casey, who says he wasn't prepared for how challenging the project would be. "Finally, my executive producer just had to tell me to stop," says the Hunter College grad. "We had over 200 hours of footage—he was like, 'You've got to make something with what you've got.' I would have liked to do more interviews, had a little more time, taped a couple more events. But you can only do so much. If it's going to be a slice of life in 2006, then that's what it is—you can't make a definitive statement in just six months."

Casey fears, however, that he missed a chance or two to do just that. "At the 2006 Halloween party, we filmed a screener of the doc, and the next day when I went to pick up my projector, the doors were locked," he says. "The Roxy didn't reopen for 10 more days. On the day they finally let me pick it up, I walked in and nothing had been cleaned up from that night. There were, like, those giant blow-up lawn decorations, like those pumpkins, still blowing by the front doors. Bottles, trash, and vomit everywhere. Michael had performed a scene from Carrie on the stage, and it was covered in fake blood. Nothing had changed from that night. I felt like I was witnessing the aftermath of the end of the world. I was like, Fuck, this is the most perfect end to the film, and the police wouldn't let me go get my camera. It was so frustrating."

Then there are the challenges presented by the medium: Regardless of how beautiful the footage is, Motherfucker's audience will still never be at the party. The music and the booze are missing, and the experience simply can't be replicated two-dimensionally. "Michael T is just this craftsman of moments, but when you're visually capturing a party, the camera stands between yourself and the fun," Casey says, pausing. "That was hard—trying to depict what I saw as the truth versus what the Mofos feel they see. If someone had been in the basement of Studio 54 with a camera, you probably would have seen that it's just a dingy basement with leaky pipes and rats. But when you read about it, you don't visualize that stuff. You're just like, David Bowie was there."

That's not to say Casey isn't happy with the finished product, as he should be—hearing what the four producers are willing to admit about each other is alone worth the price of admission. (Justine on Johnny: "I don't like how Johnny deals with certain matters, and I don't really like how he deals with me. He can be a real asshole." Michael on Justine: "She can be a little ... just adolescent-like." Johnny on everyone: "We don't always love each other.") Casey says that his first Motherfucker party—2002's Andrew W.K. fete at the Roxy—opened him up to a world he'd never experienced as the typical "downtown/Brooklyn hipster," and that his documentary is a love letter to the city he'd never seen before that night.

"Motherfucker might not necessarily be the most original idea, but it's the most true to what New York can represent in terms of nightlife—it's willing to be seedy and play great music, but also to be free," he concludes. "There's not a crazy amount of security, there's no bottle service, there aren't tons of drink specials. Those four hold fast to the old New York legacy. There's just nobody else like them."

Click here for more images and to learn about the film.

Photo credit: Jenny Askew

Monday, September 17, 2007

How we identify your Main Message

The key to an effective marketing plan is an intelligently crafted and consistently used Main Message. This must be informed by a company’s unique capabilities, its goals and an understanding of its clients and competitors. It will be the idea expressed at all touch-points: from website to portfolios, from samples to sales presentations, from PR to the way the phones are answered.

Pollock|Spark uncovers the unique strengths and goals of a company and creates a compelling and focused Main Message to be the foundation of all their communications.

Here’s how we do it for a typical creative company. This plan is fully adaptable to work for individual creative talents or for larger organizations

“Who do they think they are? And who do they want to be?”
Internal inquiry:
Pollock|Spark conducts in-depth interviews with key principals/staffers to discover the company’s strengths relative to its competitors, the talents and services it offers, and their hopes and dreams. These interviews are face-to-face for best results and greatest insight. A review of the company’s work and a marketing audit are conducted.

“Who do their clients think they are, and what are they looking for?”
External inquiry:
Pollock|Spark conducts telephone interviews with selected clients. These interviews will uncover their views of the company’s capabilities and their level of satisfaction with performance and product as well as whom they regard as the company’s competition.

Insights: Main Message
Pollock|Spark brings fresh eyes and objectivity to what it has learned. The company’s Main Message is crafted from our insights and is informed by our years of experience. This is not a tag line or a piece of advertising – it is an expression of the company’s unique value proposition and it will be used as the basis for all communications. In most cases it can be used as a brief “elevator speech” to describe the company. A report of the top-line findings and analysis will also be provided.

Projected Timeframe
The complete process usually takes around four weeks. The time is dependent on availabilities for interviews.


Main Message
Top-line findings and analysis report

Fees on request

Brainstorming sessions
Facilitated half-day brainstormings on a selected topic can be most valuable. These include such favorites as:
* Incorporating Message into the company’s DNA
* Communications/marketing planning
* Focusing the creative offering

About Pollock|Spark
Pollock|Spark, A Catalyst for Creative Businesses, is a management and strategic
consultancy that helps creative businesses to focus their vision and grow. We help make running a business fun again. To learn more, visit us at

What Pollock|Spark clients have said:
"Michael (Pollock, Pollock|Spark) has a very strong ability to focus deeply on a company and draw out important, often overlooked, issues. His suggestions for next steps and action plans are excellent. Michael has been instrumental in helping us clearly define goals and working towards achieving them."
David Gioiella, Partner, Northern Lights

“The Pollock|Spark report has served as a trusted guide for the board of directors and the professional staff. It has helped navigate the substantial structural and behavioral changes the association has gone through, helped change the way AICE conducts its business and the way it informs and engages its membership. The difference has been extraordinary. From the attitude of the board to the renewed sense of purpose of the membership, AICE is a reinvigorated association thanks in no small part to the careful and insightful work of Pollock|Spark.
Burke Moody, Executive Director, AICE

“(Pollock|Spark) navigated a potentially difficult internal political situation at our company very well (difficult because of the self-perception differences between the partners), advertised your services accurately and delivered an analysis that is relevant, clear and integral to creating forward movement.”
David Starr, Partner, Curious Pictures

Ask us for a quote - we would love to help you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Asking the right questions

We met yesterday with an exciting young production company that is getting set for some significant growth. Here is part of a gratifying email they wrote me today:

"Thank you so much for meeting with us yesterday. You asked many questions that we had let lurk in the shadows and pointed us in the right direction."

Yes indeed; that is what we do.

Monday, August 20, 2007

AICE "reinvigorated" thanks to Pollock Spark

A testimonial from Burke Moody, ED of AICE:

"Pollock|Spark created and conducted a survey for the Association of Independent Creative Editors (AICE), a trade association representing 130 companies and over 600 editors whose primary business is editing commercials for television, the web and cinema.

As happens in many associations, AICE had stalled and become stuck in its ways. There was a general feeling among the members that the leadership was isolated and the organization was simply not performing well. So we hired Pollock|Spark to investigate, find out what our membership really wanted, what issues were of most concern and recommend a course of action.

Since it was issued, the Pollock|Spark report has served as a trusted guide for the board of directors and the professional staff. It has helped navigate the substantial structural and behavioral changes the association has gone through, helped change the way AICE conducts its business and the way it informs and engages its membership. The difference has been extraordinary. From the attitude of the board to the renewed sense of purpose of the membership, AICE is a reinvigorated association thanks in no small part to the careful and insightful work of Pollock|Spark."

Burke Moody
Executive Director
Association of Independent Editors (AICE)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why some ideas survive and others die

We've been writing creative briefs in the last few days. Getting the brief right - whether your client does it for you, or you do it for yourself, or to get your client on the right page - is arguably the most important factor in a job's success.

We got real inspiration from a book called Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. We recommend it strongly to anyone with ideas to communicate.

Click here to buy Made to Stick

Monday, August 6, 2007

Message and positioning are a natural fit

The pollock|spark team created a positioning and message for The Cooke Center (on behalf of The Cyrano Project.) Here is what the happy client said:

“Working with (them) was a pleasure. They did not come in and impose their vision, but helped us to articulate ours. They facilitated the creation of a central message and positioning for our organization that seemed natural and organic, something that grew from who we are, rather than something grafted on.”

Michael Termini, President, Cooke Center for Learning and Development, NYC

Let us help you create or refresh your company's positioning so that you can strengthen your communications and get more business.

pollock|spark team enables stronger communications

The Pollock|Spark consultant team has created a Main Message for NFTE (working through The Cyrano Project.) The same team can bring the same level of insights and help to your creative business. Here's what David Nelson, COO of NFTE said about our strategic work for them:

"(They) worked with the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) on defining and honing our main message for communications. In the process of learning about NFTE and its work, the consultants demonstrated real understanding of our organization’s mission and came up with strategic insights which had impact beyond the message itself.

(They) helped our organization understand itself better and helped us resolve fundamental questions which are leading us to clarify our basic value proposition, as well as how we express it through messaging. This will lead us to more powerful promotion of our programs and enable us to attract more volunteers and donors over time.

I would recommend (them) to any organization seeking thoughtful analysis and stronger communications. (They) did a superb job."

Please get in touch if we can help your business clarify its value proposition and get more powerful promotion of your services.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Behavioral Marketing

A man recently offered his personal profile for sale on ebay for a minimum of $100. There were no bidders. Yet yesterday AOL bought Tacoda – one of the two big behavioral targeting networks – the price I am told worked out at $2.25 per user profile in their database. I went yesterday to the first conference dedicated to Behavioral Marketing.

There is a nice definition in the Blue Lithium literature – Behavioral Marketing "involves identifying user interest by observing their behavior online – what sites and what pages they visit, what links they click on, how they respond to certain ads and so forth."

On one portal, most of the visitors to the car buying section come to them from the religion pages. So if you advertised your car on the above mentioned religion pages you would likely reach a potential buyer earlier in the purchase funnel.

Clearly behavioral is a hot and growing category. One speaker told us that though the click-through rate is 33% lower for a behavioral than a contextual ad placement (contextual is where you put an ad for windshield wipers on the weather page when its raining), the ultimate conversion rate is 40% higher. This would be measured in the auto category by the user locating a dealer or requesting a quote.

Advertisers who use behavioral targeting are twice as happy with their banner campaigns as those who don’t, we are told. Yet advertisers 10% of their online budget seems to be as high as they are going for behavioral. What we see is that it works better for patient advertisers – they need to go a little way out of the normal direct marketing, immediate conversion, mindset.

But there is a long way to go before BT can achieve real scale. Its knowledge depends largely on those cookies that are stored by your browser. So every time you clear the cookies they have to start again. And multiple users of a browser of course create a jumbled profile. And anyway a profile becomes out of date very quickly. A buyer may be searching for a car for a couple of weeks - but after that she has probably bought one and a car ad aimed at her when she visit ivillage will be wasted.

There are attempts to link the data collected online with behavior offline and to use similar sets of metrics – but it isn’t coming easy. There is a long way to go, even for the high-end advertisers, in integrating their online efforts at any level with their traditional campaigns. Only 50% of advertisers on the last Superbowl had bought the relevant online keywords so that they would be easily found in searches by viewers who wanted to follow up.

More in a later post on what I saw as the biggest missing piece from this forum.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sparkings is here

Now you can find selected articles from past issues of Sparkings here in the blog.

You can still sign up to receive the Sparkings email newsletter.

But there will be more content here on the blog - so subscribe to the posts and keep checking us out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Film company finds out what clients really think of them

Pollock Spark finds the answers to those questions that so many companies want answered: “What do our clients really think of us? Where do we fit in the marketplace? What about prospective clients – have they even heard of us?”

A leading NY film production company (identity withheld here, but call us if you want to know) wanted to discover where their brand stood in the minds of ad agency folks and who was their real competition. They were deciding whether to extend the current brand for a new venture, or to create a new one.

Pollock Spark talked to Creative Directors and Senior Producers, to writers and art directors. They also dug for fresh thinking within the client company: finding out how things looked from the point of view of individual members of senior management. Pollock Spark did the research, analyzed the responses, had the insights and made recommendations.

This client said of the experience:
“I said good things about you to your face and I'll say them behind your back as well. I thought you navigated a potentially difficult internal political situation at our company very well (difficult because of the self-perception differences between the partners), advertised your services accurately and delivered an analysis that is relevant, clear and integral to creating forward movement.”

Coaching senior staff

A well-established film production/post production company (identity withheld here, but call if you want to know) had promoted one of their staff to the position of Executive Producer. But the owners were not sure that he was running on all cylinders. He wasn’t even really sure what the job actually entailed.

So they asked Pollock Spark to come in and work with him to discover what he was doing right and to help him with those areas where he was weaker – or didn’t even realize needed attention. They knew that using an objective outsider to do this would be far more effective than doing it themselves.

According to the owners of the company, the results were immensely successful. The EP’s attitude to the job changed: he was more efficient and productive. His bids were better and his relationships with clients were stronger. “Even the CFO was impressed!”

As a result, the owners have asked Pollock Spark to come in again. This time to work with their creative staff to help them focus their talents, develop their careers and sell themselves more effectively.

This client said of Pollock Spark President Michael Pollock:

"Michael has a very strong ability to focus deeply on a company and draw out important, often overlooked, issues. His suggestions for next steps and action plans are excellent. Michael has been instrumental in helping us clearly define goals and working towards achieving them."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What our clients say

"Pollock Spark delivered an analysis that is relevant, clear and integral to creating forward movement"

"You took us to a whole new level that we would not have reached on our own"

"..suggestions for next steps and action plans are excellent"

"..instrumental in helping us to clearly define goals and working towards achieving them"

The big 4 questions for your future

1. What are your goals?

2. Where and what do you hope to be in the future?

3. What do you do if and when you get there?

4. How will you measure success?

Who is your best salesperson?

Your good clients are your best advocates. Millions of research dollars have been spent to prove this - but I suggest you go with your gut here.

Keep your advocates close. Make them feel they belong. Their valuable word of mouth is amplified by the internet: blogs, IM, social media. (And, don't forget, the "new advocates" are spreading both the good news and the bad news.)

Create and maintain a dialog with your advocates � help them to feel good about you and spread the word for you in a way that will count. They are your best salespeople.

Investment and return

One of my first bosses used to pull pound notes out of his pants pockets and start throwing them around the room when the expenses got to be too much for him. (this was in London - I'd not yet seen my first dollar bill). I hear all the time: "I have to spend x dollars on printer ink again, or y dollars on client lunches. It's just money thrown away." Even some of the salary checks you have to sign can leave you feeling this way.

I suggest you look at these costs another way. Look at each of them as an investment. With the paper you bought you can print out so many more project proposals and invoices - resulting in so much more revenue. With each meal you buy a client you are investing in getting that next job. With that salary check, you are paying someone a lot less than you are paying yourself to do the things that you don't have time to do but that need to get done so that you can take on those new projects that you just invested in the ink for.

It's easy really - consider each check you write as an investment, and picture the projects and revenue that it will make possible. If you can't picture the return on a particular check, then think twice before signing it.

How much can you do yourself?

How much can one person do? Not everything, that is for sure. Your time is limited � so you had better make every bit of it count. I'll bet you are filling big chunks of your day with things you can easily have someone else take care of. I know it's fun - and even sometimes it's good for you - to do those simple things that need no inspiration and that stay done when you are through. But now and again is fine. I suggest that each evening for the next few days you review your own personal timesheet (real or mental) and see what you have done that day that you could, with the minimum of effort, have one of your staff take care of so you would be able to do the real work.

What are the most important things that you bring to the company? Creative and intellectual skills: certainly. Marketing know-how and experience: hopefully. Business chops: sure - you got this far, right? Are these the things that you are using each day? For too many people, those instant gratification tasks like balancing the checkbook and fixing the coffee pot seem just so much easier and more fun - and then the day is gone.

But the real and lasting fun is in designing and implementing the bigger picture. Use a logic model. Know what your goals are. Identify the steps that will get you to that goal. Identify the people and resources you have to help you. And make the best use of your time.

How your printed materials expose your weaknesses

All aspects of your business are tested when you create a printed marketing piece.

It�s going to cost you some money - so you need to review the marketing budget, for which you need to review the business planning, the revenue projections and the cash flow. So all that has to be in place and understood so you can be sure it will be money well spent.

Of course it has to represent your brand - so that has to be clearly defined. The brochure or whatever has to be the exemplar of your look and has to communicate your positioning. Which means you have to know who your audience is and what you want them to think or do.

Now you need to get together the portfolio and case histories - you have to deal with other people in your company to get these organized. And perhaps to get testimonials from clients - you need your sales guy to get these for you. This exposes them to the project and they will surely give you their opinion. How well are they versed in the positioning and the desires of your audience? How efficiently can you make the requests and get a response?

Let's be honest this stuff can take a lot of time and be very frustrating. Let's say you get that together. Next you are dealing with the writer and the graphic designer: artistes and marketers all of them. And then there's the printing and the paper stock and how many do we need and on and on. Do you have the time? It takes a lot longer than it should.

So the simple decision to make a printed marketing piece has exposed your business planning and your cash flow, your marketing strategy, your ability to define what your company does, your internal communications and responsiveness, your own role and responsibilities in the company, your company�s internal communications and your staff's understanding of what the company does.

This is quite a test! Preparing a brochure might be a good exercise (even if you never print it) because all these aspects of your business are critical and if you haven't been paying attention to them this will be a way to force it.

Monitoring your marketing

You've sweated bullets strategizing, making your marketing plan and getting it off the ground. "Phew, that is done," you say.

Well no. There's not much point in starting a marketing effort if you don�t track it to see how it works. Of course the easiest measure is the "direct" way: did a specific piece of marketing lead directly to a sale. But you�re doing a lot of marketing that is not so directly measurable. Remember my Rule of Two? Many jobs come to you because the buyer has heard the right things about you from two separate sources or channels. So how to add these? Of course you should ask people where they heard of you and what they heard. You can look at your electronic newsletter stats and see who clicked through on which links. You can track your website traffic and associate its spikes with your mailshot or a press mention or a party you threw.

You don't just care about sales, of course. You also care very much about the kind of work and quality of clients you are getting. You can do surveys of people's attitudes to your company over time and see what effect your marketing has. There are even simple and inexpensive ways to see what is working and what is not. If you are using word of mouth techniques for example, you can send out your talking points and see when they get back to you. Attune your team to be keeping their ears to the ground all the time.

If you track all these things you should see some patterns emerge. You should be able to connect your efforts with your sales and the quality of your clients over time.

But it is no good knowing what works and what doesn't unless you are ready to make the necessary adjustments. If something isn't working don�t be afraid to change it and make it better; this will demonstrate how smart and adaptable you are.

Is your business growing and getting stronger?

A client recently told us: "Your support and wisdom have already improved our business, and we're looking forward to continuing the collaboration."
We are proud to be working with them again.

Are people pleased to hear from you?

When people hear your name in a voice-mail or see you in their inbox, how do they feel? Which ones do they want to respond to first (or at all)?

My guess is that they will want to reply to someone who is going to help them; someone who can offer them advice, or come up with just the service they need; someone who'll give them some useful information. They probably will not be so interested in talking to someone who always wants something from them, or is going to nag them or make them feel guilty, or have to explain themselves.

When you look at your messages, whose calls do you respond to? Put yourself in their place when you pick up the phone, or hit "send."

Your company's narrative

What is the story of your company? Okay - I am not really interested in your history: tell that to your mum!

So what is the story to be for this new year? Aha - you are going to expand. And hire a new sales guy and do some PR. Uhuh. Well that is wonderful. But do you know what are you really actually going to do, and when, and how much it will cost and what effect will that have? How will it all look to the bank manager who only sees the numbers and the accountant who'll give you that quizzical look when you review the first quarter together.

Write down your company's narrative for next year. There is a truly effective and productive way to do this. This narrative form is otherwise known as a cash flow projection. Do it month-by-month, or week-by-week, whatever works best for your situation. Doing this will force you to decide exactly when you are going to hire that sales guy, how much you are going to pay her, when her work will start paying off, when the revenue will come in. Doing this will put flesh on the future, making it seem real and helping you understand it better.

Once you have this narrative you can constantly monitor it against what actually happens. It is a terrific template for you to work against - when things change you can just adjust your narrative as necessary. It is not for the lazy, but then neither is running a successful business.

Making your own luck

A well known film director told me a story about how lucky he was when he first came to New York and how this lucky break got his career off the ground.

I will try and tell it the way he told me. He found himself sitting at a gathering next to a man who was a biggie in the design and advertising world and he got talking to him and from that he got his first big job in NY. Wow, that was lucky wasn't it!

So let's just start to break that "lucky" moment down. This wasn't just a magical karmic moment. He had done his homework. The gathering was an Art Directors Club meeting, he had made an informed choice to go to that meeting. And he had also done his homework on who was who in the business. So in fact he recognized this biggie and made sure to sit next to him. And he started the conversation. And he knew where this man worked and what he liked. So this "lucky" young man knew just how to present himself and what to say.

So there really was no luck involved. It was all carefully thought through, prepped and executed. He's a famous director now. That isn't just luck either.

Are we doing this for our companies and ourselves? Are we doing our homework? Are we making our own "luck"?

Talking about your company

So much of marketing success comes from personal contacts. Much of what people know about your company comes from you and your staff and your clients talking to them about it.

So try and be sure that what everyone is saying about you is what you want them to be saying. Just like politicians, you should have talking points. Make sure your talking point is interesting. Make sure it's on brand. Make sure everyone knows what the current story is: your PR person, your rep, your current clients, your staff. Each person can have their own angle on it but how great if there's a consistent story that people can hear several ways from several different sources. Only good can come from this.

Looking for opportunities

Know what you do. Know who you are. Look with an open mind at what businesses might benefit from what you do. And don't just look at the same old lists.

There is something you do that lots of companies need. They have problems that they need to solve that you can solve for them. There is a moment when their ongoing situation turns into a problem: that is what my friend Michael Josefowicz of Parsons Design School calls "the moment of pain". That's when they need you and you need to be there for them.

The chances of you stumbling into them at that exact moment are miniscule. So you have to be there, around them, before that, understanding their situation and being ready when that moment of pain hits them. When they arrive at the moment of pain they are usually not going to start doing the research. Usually they will have some people they already think will be right for them and they will pull from that universe. You need to be on that list.

So understand who might need you, understand their situation and understand what their moment of pain is likely to be. Be in their lives. So when that moment hits them you will be there and ready.

Using a consultant

It's not easy bringing in a consultant for the first time. One of the greatest benefits that a consultant can bring is objectivity. He can ask questions that have been ignored. He can sort the real issues from the red herrings. When someone is in the trenches they often lose sight of the big picture and a sense of what is going on in the larger marketplace. The consultant can bring this to the table and apply it to your business.

Use a consultant intelligently. Give them the information they need, listen to them, respond and make it a dialog. Internalize what they recommend and make it your own.

You must be committed to action when you engage a consultant. Doing all the work, not engaging in a real conversation and ignoring their recommendations is surely not a good use of time and money. If the consultant was impressive enough to hire in the first place - then listen to what they say, engage with them and apply their talents and ideas to suit your needs.

I have been working with a company that was leery about bringing in a consultant. They talked about it for - oh, over two years I think. Finally they took the plunge, identifying a small and defined project. The project went well and was most productive. The ice was broken, everyone benefited from the trial, and now the relationship will continue.

Making the hard decisions

Can you spell procrastination, boys and girls?

On a daily basis there are decisions to be made when you are running a business. There are the easy decisions like whether to buy a new coffee machine and there are the hard decisions like - well you know which ones I mean.

The hard decisions get put off - and the unresolved issues fester. These unmade decisions can negatively affect everything that you are doing. I suggest you make these tough decisions ASAP. Make them first. Get them out of the way. You will never have all the information you need to make them perfectly so make it a priority to learn what is learnable and make the decision. If you can't do it now, decide that you will make the decision on a date certain. Put it in your calendar. If you want to research in the meantime put that in your calendar too. Then stop worrying about it, because you know it will get taken care of - on the day you have chosen. What a relief!

Finally when you've made the decision, leave it made. Stand by it. Don't second guess it. There are plenty more decisions to be made. Some you will make wrong, but most of them will be right. Don't waste time revisiting the last one. It has been made. Move on.

But does consulting work?

Q. We know that there are questions we need answered and decisions to make about our company's future. And we have been looking at these things too closely for too long and have become paralyzed. But will bringing someone in to consult actually make any difference?

A. The decision to bring in an objective outsider is a big one. It will absolutely work if you want it to. If you just want to shore up your own indecision then it will be a waste. Deciding to bring someone in is equivalent to deciding to break the logjam that has been in place. You have to be committed to act on the decisions you arrive at with the consultant. If you think the consulting alone will solve everything - it won't. If you want it to help, it most certainly will. And it'll more than pay for itself.

Creative R & D

Your company's future depends on new ideas and new talents. In the creative and ideas business you can only go so far with the same old ideas and styles. It is essential that you invest in R and D for your next creative wave. Essential. And you cannot expect to have an immediate, this quarter, return on this investment - you have to manage it so that it will pay out in time.

You need to bring your educated brain to evaluating which innovative ideas and which individual talents are worth investing in and mentoring. Just because you have a junior team member in place does not in itself mean that she is the key to the future - challenge them creatively and challenge your decision to invest in them. You invest in your juniors' training and you invest in your own self-improvement, just the way you invest in equipment. Choose and monitor them just as carefully as you do that new piece of equipment.

These investments in your creative R and D are the most important part of ensuring your company's future. You should be thinking about them all the time, evaluating them, encouraging them, nurturing them: just the way you reevaluate your stock portfolio on a regular basis. (You do do that don't you?) A good investment will pay handsomely, a bad one - well - is a bad one.

Is growth necessarily good?

The answer to that depends on what it is you are growing. Is it your billings? Is it the size of your staff? Is it your own talent and skills? Is it the talent of your team? Is it your profits? Or is it your overdraft?

Many companies measure success by their billings growth. In fact it is remarkable how many define their success by telling me that they have doubled their billings this year, or they are billing more this quarter than they were in the same quarter last year. Is it their company mission to increase billings? OK then. But what about a mission that aims to improve the quality of the creative work? Or one that aims to make a bigger profit. These measures may be much more important to consider.

More profit can in many cases come from reducing overhead and concentrating on your successful business lines, which in many creative companies means the more profitable creatives. Yes, shrink your way to success. Less can be more, and it can be a smart decision.

It is true that greater billings may also lead to greater profits, but it ain't necessarily so - unless you are only losing only a small amount on every job and you are making it up in volume. (Can this be right? Ed.)

So before you blindly worship the great god of growth, ask yourself a few pertinent questions - or have someone objective come in and ask you these hard questions - and decide what you should really be growing.

Where did the excitement go?

Q. When we started this business it was exciting. It was all new and we had a lot of fun. Now we have a whole bunch of employees and it's become a grind. People have lost energy or become complacent. And it's not fun any more. What to do?

A. Three things to consider. 1. If new is fun for you, then find something new to aim for. 2. Revisit your purpose - find a common goal again and work together towards it. 3. If your staff are making it a drag, then maybe they caught your misery. So it's up to you...

Use your positioning every day

Your Positioning is what others think about you. It is not what you say you are, nor is it what you feel about yourselves.

What people think of you is what will lead them to work with you - or not. So you want what they think of you to be motivating.

You obviously can influence their thinking by how you act with them and what you tell them. As in any relationship, every time you interact with someone you are affecting what they think of you: either changing their impression, or reinforcing what they already thought. Do you want them to think you're where the cool clients go, or you're talented and eccentric, or technical nerds who can solve anything, or amazingly original? What will it take to persuade them to think that thing? The answer to that needs to show up in your marketing plan. If you are consistent every time they interact with you then they will form a clear and consistent picture. If you are inconsistent or contradictory then they will get confused and you will simply be positioned in their minds as a confusing company.

So every time you reach them - every impression at every touchpoint - must be informed by how you want to position yourself. Every time the phone is answered or someone visits your office, every time you have a meeting or run an ad or issue a press release or invite someone to lunch. Every delivery and every piece of mail should be reinforcing the one thing you want them to think about you.

How partners make decisions

Partnerships are wonderful things. You put together the strengths of two or more people and they work together for a single purpose. The whole can be so much greater than the sum of the parts.

At least that is the theory. And it does often happen that way. But too often businesses run by partners can founder or stagnate. And this is not because the partners don't have the aforementioned strengths but usually because they are missing the other thing I mentioned in that theory: the single purpose.

If there is no clearly agreed single purpose for the partnership then it becomes impossible to make informed, consistent and actionable decisions. I have worked to help many companies whose partners are having some difficulty moving the business forward. Their difficulties are usually not caused by their incompetence, or difficult personalities, or inability to schedule meetings with each other - the problem is almost always that they don't actually have a sense of common purpose: of why the partnership exists and what is its goal.

When there is a goal and a sense of purpose, then decisions can be based on it. The partners feel that they are going somewhere - together. Now they have a solid basis for empowering individuals to make decisions for the group, and they don't to have to struggle to schedule meetings together and reach consensus. Because they are all agreed on the purpose and where they are going, day to day tactical decisions can be made in a timely fashion. And forward movement is achieved.

Partners: making decisions - or not

Q. There are four partners in my company. We started it together and we all get on very well. But I feel that we don't get anywhere with the business because we don't take any decisions. We have to all meet and all agree and this just doesn't happen. Is there a way out of this? Or should we just accept it as the way a partnership works?

A. Don't just accept it. Challenge it. Talk about it. Find a way to make decisions that doesn't depend on consensus. Or if it's too hard to address this as a group, bring in an independent arbiter to come up with a way to break the inertia. It is probably hurting your business and that hurts each of you.

How are the sales guys doing?

A company asked me last month whether I thought their sales people were doing a good job for them. I asked what their goals were and were they meeting them. I asked how often they revised the goals and how they evaluated their success. "Hmmmm" came the answer.

Goals and accountability: that's the secret. It seems so obvious but it's so easy to skate over. When you engage sales people, agree with them on specific goals. Whether it's particular people you want to work with, the quality of work you want to do, or dollar volumes. Set the goals and set the time frames. And keep tabs on successes. This works well for all parties. The goals can be reevaluated if necessary and intelligent discussion can often uncover things that both sides can do to help things to progress. Sales is not a one-sided function. The company management has a considerable responsibility to provide the sales team with materials and information and encouragement: they can't work effectively in the dark. But how can you know how they are doing if you don't have a measure. Most important of all, keep talking to them and keep asking questions and insisting on answers.

How to spark growth

When a company decides to reevaluate itself, its leadership typically begins a navel-gazing process. Too often they start by looking at what is going wrong and what is not working. That is a time-honored approach. But I have found in my work with clients that this is really not the best way to go at it.

The tone of the dialog and how productive the process will is sparked by the very first question that we ask: and if it's a downer then...down is where the process may be headed.

When we start by looking at what has worked well and led to successes, then we get off to an exciting and positive start and everyone concerned feels good about themselves and where things are headed. This is worth its weight in gold.

We have also found that having that first question - the spark - asked by someone from outside the organization is radically more productive than when it's asked from the inside. When its asked by an insider, the conversation is burdened by assumptions and history and all sorts of confusing and often threatening feelings. There's a good reason why so many Fortune 500 corporations engage consulting firms. And besides, bragging to an outsider is much more satisfying than bragging to yourself or your partners. The outsider has no baggage, only an interest in your future success.

So bring in an independent facilitator. Start out with the wins. And build from your strengths.

Refocusing your company

Q. I've been trying to refocus my company and I look at all the problems and it's too depressing and I never get anything fixed. Should I just give up?

A. Let me suggest two new approaches to what you are trying to do.

First: instead of starting by looking at the problems, why don't you look at what has gone well, what gave you pleasure, what you'd like to do more of. A more positive starting place may lead you to a more positive conclusion.

Second: why don't you consider the value of an investment in someoutside assistance. You get a doctor for your health, a plumber for your u-bend. Why not consider getting specialist help for your business. No-one gives you extra points for doing it all yourself.

Getting New Clients

I recently heard the following from a former client of a client of mine: "I had a very good experience working with them, but after the job was done I never heard from them again - so I just never went back," she said.

Hmmm. Before you worry about getting new clients, make sure that you are keeping and growing the existing ones. I learn a lot about my clients' businesses and where there is opportunity for them by asking their clients how they feel about them. Your former clients may not tell you the truth, but they'll tell me.

Clients have short memories and a lot of claims on their attention. And they like to be considered valuable. "There are so many companies out there - for a company to be remembered they have to be in our faces all the time, in a nice way of course," says another customer. If you are not constantly keeping in touch with your old clients you greatly reduce the chance that they will come back. And let's face it, people who've had a positive experience with you in the past are the most likely to be your clients in the future. If you don't let them forget you and what they liked about you.

So I suggest that the first priority for your marketing and sales should be to reinforce the relationships you already have. It's a lot cheaper to reach someone you know who already knows what you can do, than it is to reach someone who's never heard of you and needs to be educated from scratch. Then, when that is taken care of, you can go after new clients.

Closing for the holidays

Q. How do I decide when to close for the holidays?

A. Some companies benefit a whole lot from the recharging gained during a week off. Some just can't afford to close for more than the major holidays. I can't help you with that, save to say there's nothing worse than having people come in and sit around with nothing urgent to do.

For some on your staff, family demands mean that they need time off at the holidays, others may have more flexibility. Call your clients and find out when they are going away. Then figure it out.

The other bad thing is to be unclear with staff about when the company will be closed. Decide it as early as possible, don't just leave them hanging. They need to plan with their loved ones and to buy tickets - 30 days in advance is a critical price break for many airlines. It's too late for me to tell you that for this year but remember it for next.

And don't forget to take some time off yourself: it really is important that you recharge your own batteries.

A Story about Art

Here's a story I love. It's my gift to you (with thanks to a Tate Modern catalog). Do with it what you will.

It's about the artist Barnet Newman. Many of his paintings, some of them quite large, are uniform coloured grounds with one or more bands running from top to bottom - he calls these bands "zips".

This famous story tells how the artists Elaine de Kooning and Franz Kline were sitting in a bar when they were approached by a collector who had just come from Newman's first exhibition. The collector, nonplussed by what he perceived as the emptiness and repetition of Newman's work, tells Kline that there was absolutely nothing there to see.

Kline asks the collector how many canvases were on show and what sizes and colors they were.

Then moving on to the zips, he enquires about their particular hue, their dimensions, whether they are upright or horizontal, thick or thin, darker or lighter than the background, painted on top of the background color or straight onto the canvas.

As the collector is forced to enumerate the many variations, Kline finally remarks: "Well I don't know, it all sounds damned complicated to me."

Looking for a job

Q. I am looking for a job in the marketing business and I've been interviewing. I am 30 and I've had a lot of corporate marketing and consulting experience. In five years I want to run my own integrated marketing shop. It's going to... (Ed: I cut the rest, suffice it to say that this lady has a vision.)

A. I say, "Why wait". Forget looking for a job, you've already found one. You have a vision. You have a plan - or at least the beginnings of one. You are way ahead of a lot of people who already started their own business. Flesh out your plan. Be clear about what you offer. Get started. Find a client or two. Don't waste time working for another marketing juggernaut (unless you are planning to go run a piece of their business and then steal it away). Most of what you learn from them at this stage will be the ins and outs of their particular corporate structure and craziness. Go for it. Let it be your own craziness that you have to work around.

Managing information

We talked last time about managing all the information that you gather. We discussed how it needs to be organized the way you want to use it. Don't just blindly follow the template the software people gave you. What do they know about your business?

You would have thought that most companies were pretty much the same. I have had experience recently with a software package that an organization had thought seemed perfect for them. They didn't need much from it. When they got it I watched three highly educated young people poking at it for days. I watched them try to fathom the manual. I watched them discover that there are a whole lot of people out there making money from providing seminars in how this package works. Seminars for an address book!!

There is a tendency for software to do much more than anyone really needs, and then it gets too complicated and people can't use it. If you decide clearly what functionality you need and what you want to do with the information you can be better informed when you choose how to manage it and it will be a whole lot easier than if you are just poking around.

I knew a film editing firm that had spent years designing a custom application that recorded every little time and cost detail of complex jobs. Well of course it didn't record it itself, it had to have a lot of data input by a lot of people: how many hours of each person and each workstation went into every job and so on. You could analyze a job by person, by job function by anything your heart desired. It was wonderful. It would have made General Motors proud. At the end of every job the owner got a multi-page report with all the details in serried gray columns. But for a small business it was all much too much to deal with: much too much information. And when he was handed each report it came with three figures written on the top in pencil. Those figures were all he read and that was all he really wanted to know. Of course I can make the argument that knowledge is power. But limit your reporting to useable and useful information. For many companies that will mean cutting the number of reports in half. Know what you need and control the time people spend having to input data and create reports. Then you will increase your capacity to to understand it and profit from it. And you will have saved time and money by simplifying the process.

What do your customers like about you?

Do you know what your customers like about you? Do you know what it is they they think you do for them? What it is that makes them decide that you are the one?

It is alarmingly common that the reason you think they like you never occurred to them. They have a whole other thing that they value. If you can understand what this is then you are well on the way to keeping them around and to getting more clients who think like them.

We've been talking to a Russian restaurant recently. A bit off our usual beat but it is a creative business facing many of the same issues you do. They do great business with the Russian community. They are very proud that they have a French chef as well as a Russian chef in the kitchen. They keep telling us that. So why aren't the mainstream, non-Russian customers coming, they want to know? Well perhaps people who want French cuisine are not going to go to a Russian restaurant for it. Perhaps what they might really like is the enormous piles of wonderful organic char-grilled meats and fish. Perhaps what they would like is the unique cultural experience of authentic sword-dancers. Perhaps it's just the excuse to drink lots of vodka and eat caviar that will pull them in.

We won't be guessing when we tell them what the secret is. We will do some research - we'll bring people to the restaurant and find out what they like about it. We'll talk to people who go to other similar restaurants and find out what it would take to try a different one. We'll do it just like the package goods guys do it. We don't have to guess. It doesn't cost a lot to find out what people really think. But maybe it would cost a lot to go on trying to lure people to a Russian restaurant with a French chef, however good he is.

So how does all this translate to your business? Well when you know what people really like about you it will make it a whole lot easier to market your company and get new clients. So why guess? A few real answers could lead to a whole bunch of new business. Shouldn't you start asking the questions?

Reading Resumes

The truth is that I learn more about job candidates from reading their cover letters than I do from the resumes. The cover letter lets me know whether to even bother with the resume. Resumes have been so rigorously formatted that they too often mask the interesting stuff.

When I am looking at resumes I am looking because I have a need, or a problem to solve. Job applicants too don't often understand that. They think they are the one with the problem to solve. They don't realize that what you want to fix is your own problem, not theirs.

I encourage applicants to tell me what they can do for me, not what I can do for them. I usually don't have the time or the inclination to read between the lines. When I am looking at resumes I am rarely looking at just one. There is usually a stack of them, often unedited or sometimes culled down by a trusted aide. But there are many of them. They all look kind of the same. Their job is to grab my attention. They have to have me by the throat to get me to a second page. The effort has to come from the page not from me.

Be brutal in your first cull. If you don't see what you want at first glance - it's probably not there. Put it aside - never look at it again. Stuff that takes a third page should have been saved for the interview. How many people have you hired from a resume without an interview? None, right? 0

So let's sum up: the cover letter's job is to get me to read the resume and the resume's job is to get an interview. How hard is that? Some day I will publish a book of real cover letters. It will be a best-seller. In the humor category.

Investing in your business

"Invest! I can't afford to spend anything at all," you say.

For a small business this can be a very emotional topic. Your personal money and the company's money seem like much the same thing. If you had a job working for someone else's company you wouldn't have to invest - apart from all that education and resume writing of course. But when it's your own business you need to prove to your customers that you can do what you say you can, and you need to let them know what that is. Perhaps your business started so well that t you could fund your R&D and your marketing and your talent development out of your profits and still have money to take home. But in most cases you need to stump up some money, laying it out ahead of the anticipated profits.

There's a big temptation to wait: to not spend what you don't "have to" spend. But what's happening while you are waiting? Too often you are just losing time and postponing those profits.

Intelligent investment can speed things up. You can spend money to get your samples made or your message out or your new talent working and bringing in new business.

But note I said "intelligent" investing. Be sure you know what you are aiming at. Where you want to get to. Don't spend just for the fun of it. Do a logic model. Decide what the desired effect of each of your actions will be. See how that will get you closer to your end goal. If it doesn't get you closer to the goal you have set, then why are you doing it? If it does, you have a rational basis for spending the money and the decision is a whole lot easier.

New division or new brand?

Q. How do I figure out whether to open a new division with a separate identity to offer new services or whether just to add them to my core brand?

A. If you know what your core brand really stands for then this question will be much easier to answer. If your new services fit in with what the market believes you already offer them, then it is very possible that you can offer under the current moniker. If you will be targeting a different audience or if you risk confusing or diluting your core brand then you might seriously want to consider a new brand for your new services. Of course there are other issues to consider but understanding the brand you have already built is the first step on the road to making this decision.

Partnerships and Partners

Some people like to control everything themselves and can't manage with partners. But some people like the support and spirit and added strength that comes from working with a partner or partners. When you start up a business with a partner you can divide up the tasks and use each other's strengths. Like an account guy and a creative and a media person starting an ad agency.

It is however, absolutely critical to establish a framework for continuing this working relationship. This means establishing who is responsible for what, having regular meetings. The system you figure out should be reevaluated often, at least once a year, and the openness and honesty that is so important at the start must at all costs be kept up for the sake of the company.

One of the important foundations for the success of a partnership is for all partners to be in agreement on their goals. Are you aiming to be the best in the category? If so by what measures? Creative awards? Billings? Profits? Most employees? International offices? Where are you heading and how will you know when you've got there? What's the time frame? And do you all have the same goals in mind?

These are all questions that should be revisited at those regular meetings. However well you think you know your partners you must not make assumptions about what they are trying to get from the business. Just as your own feelings about it change over time, so do theirs - so keep talking and keep that start-up energy and communication going.

Partnerships and

Some people like to control everything themselves and can't manage with partners. But some people like the support and spirit and added strength that comes from working with a partner or partners. When you start up a business with a partner you can divide up the tasks and use each other's strengths. Like an account guy and a creative and a media person starting an ad agency.

It is however, absolutely critical to establish a framework for continuing this working relationship. This means establishing who is responsible for what, having regular meetings. The system you figure out should be reevaluated often, at least once a year, and the openness and honesty that is so important at the start must at all costs be kept up for the sake of the company.

One of the important foundations for the success of a partnership is for all partners to be in agreement on their goals. Are you aiming to be the best in the category? If so by what measures? Creative awards? Billings? Profits? Most employees? International offices? Where are you heading and how will you know when you've got there? What's the time frame? And do you all have the same goals in mind?

These are all questions that should be revisited at those regular meetings. However well you think you know your partners you must not make assumptions about what they are trying to get from the business. Just as your own feelings about it change over time, so do theirs - so keep talking and keep that start-up energy and communication going.

What are you selling?

I was talking to a business owner who said that because his business was falling off he needed new sales people. I took a look at what he had and saw that the problem was more fundamental than just sales. His talent roster was superannuated and the work they were showing was just not going to cut it in today's marketplace. (And also his client studios hadn't been decorated since the 70's and believe me it wasn't working as "trendy retro"!) So in fact he had a problem with what he was selling which had to be addressed before any new sales team went out and sold.

I know that it is often easy to blame sales and even to replace salespeople. But it is important to challenge yourself and your product so that it is as good as it can be and it is constantly refreshed and renewed. Then there is something that is saleable. Think of the saying "it's so good it sells itself". Well, okay we know things don't actually sell themselves, but it sure is nice to have a product that, once they've seen it people want it. When you've got a great product, then you'll be amazed at how well your sales team can do.

What do our clients think of us?

Q. How can I find out what my former clients really thought of our work and our service?
Architect, , NY, NY
A. Important question. If you don't know what your clients think of you it makes your follow up and marketing very difficult. You can ask them, but no-one really wants to tell you anything bad. If they didn't like what you did they just won't call again. I have had much success as an independent consultant, in talking to other people's clients and ferreting out what they really thought. I recommend from time to time getting a third party to do a little research for you. People like to express their opinions and they feel safe using a go-between. It's much easier for them and it gets you honest answers.

Naming your company

What to name a new product or company? There is no right or easy answer otherwise consultants would not be making millions coming up with gems like Prevnar and Neupogen and Consilient.

Your name is most likely the first thing about your company that someone will hear - it's your first chance to be different and stand out. So it should be based on a clear decision as to what you want people to think about you. You can have it do some of the marketing work for you. Or you can spend a whole bunch of extra time and money to do what your name could be doing for you.

It might tell simply who you are: you as a brand: like Sagmeister.
Or it might say exactly what you do like Cartoon Network or 2000 Flushes. Or where you are like 89 Greene. Or what you want to be like, say Apple or Homestead. Or what kind of people you are like Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
Understand your positioning before you pick a name. It is pretty unlikely that the same positioning would have led to Apple as led to IBM.
But there is much else that adds to the image of the company and over time a name gathers all sorts of other meaning and association. When I first heard the name Pixar I thought it was a drug - but now (after a lot of their time and money) I know better.
Make a list of names, don't reject anything the first couple of times, write them all down - here's a few more ways to start you thinking:
What you want to do. What kind of people you are. Combine some relevant words. Acronyms. Do-it names. Ironic. The mythical person. Things that ought not to be together: like Industrial Light and Magic.
Look at your competitors' names. Be different from them.

Look at the names on your short list. Get someone negative to be critical. If a name can be turned against you, you can figure that someone will do it. Mock up an ad. A mailing label. Whatever. Ask strangers what kind of company this might be and what they think it must be like.

When you are stuck, or need a laugh, you can try out the parody "Nametron 3000" and have it autogenerate a name - check it out at

Testimonials for pollock spark 2

Pollock Spark's clients have told us:

"Pollock Spark has helped us enormously in moving our business forward, both inside the organization and outside"

"They took us to a whole new level that we would not have reached on our own"

"Thank you, thank you, thank you for leading us to do this....I can already say I'm ecstatic..."

"I will never forget your kindness and sense of humor and style in helping me get through that project"


Cattle. Branding irons. The sizzle of hot metal on flesh. "That's my cow! It has my brand. It cannot be mistaken for yours because my brand is different from yours."

That's what branding started from. It's pretty simple really. And creative businesses have similar issues to those ranchers. A lot of design firms or architects or film editors or fashion designers at first glance look the same as each other to a prospective client. But you want to stand out in this crowd, so there are a couple of things you can do: you can get people to take a second glance and see the differences, or better yet you can establish the difference in the first glance. Interesting right?.

When you understand your brand, you are like an author understanding a character. There are things that character would and would not do. When the author understands a character, the reader does, too. This character is what you want your audience to feel about your brand: so that they know it, understand it, and can have a relationship with it. If you are consistent in applying it and staying with it, then at first glance people will know something is yours and understand how to relate to it. The brand is the particular relationship between a consumer and the product/service. It's not a one-way deal. The consumer gets at least half the credit for creating this relationship.

Client service - how much is enough?

Q. I am never sure how much client service is enough. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Executive Producer, film editing company, NY

A. Of course we know clients like to be treated as special. But then they all are, aren't they? But here's a thought. If you give them great work, better than they expected, with no fuss, smart clients will be delighted. Notice how well Southwest Airlines has done without even feeding their passengers. What they do is be on time. Delivering on that promise seems to have beaten out their competition's client service strategy.

I guess that if you give them great work efficiently at a fair price you should attract the clients you'd like to have. If they are just coming to you for the catering, then perhaps you should be in the hospitality business!

Is your website working for you?

Put yourself in the mind of a prospective client. You have to get something done and you heard of a company that might be able to help you. So you go to their website to help you make a decision. You're looking for a quick answer to whether they have what you need.

So what will you learn if you go to your own website? Will it tell you what you need to know - quickly and easily?

Think about how that prospective client might have got to your site. It could be a sales call or an ad that drove them there, and they went to see if there is some substance behind your pitch. If your creative work is what leads your promise, then was your latest and greatest front and center?

First impressions are really important and you have two seconds to make a good one. In those few moments did your site provide a clear understanding of what exactly you could do for them? As much fun as the game was in grade school, prospective clients have no time to play hide-and-seek. This could be your only chance to wow them, because they're going to be looking at someone else's website in a few seconds.

Ensuring your company's future

Do you ever wish a wonderful new creative would just show up and join your firm and bring a whole lot of her own clients? Well, you can wish on as many stars as you like, but it doesn't often happen! Your best bet is to effectively train your apprentices and grow the future talent within your company.

Now, it's one thing to tell your assistants and apprentices that they are being groomed for stardom and then leave them alone to figure it out for themselves - it's a much smarter thing to plan for their success and to make sure it happens.

Hire them carefully, perhaps more thoughtfully than you are used to. Set a time goal for their training: a year, two years, whatever makes sense. Train them not only in their craft, but in client skills and the business of business. When they are ready - after the training period is up, actively endorse them to clients, you know you have their back if anything goes wrong.

They should be good, after all they learned from the best! What you have to do is to promote them and support them and believe in them. In the end, this is the most dependable way to ensure another generation of success for your company. If that "lucky strike" person comes along with a stable of clients you'll still figure out a way to take them in, but at least you know you won't be depending on it.

On making proposals

Clients so often want you to tell them what your work will cost before they really know what they want you to do. They know they have some kind of problem and they want you to solve it. And that's if you're lucky! Or worse, they tell you what the solution is and you know it's not what they really need.

So don't automatically send a pricing proposal. Your task is to read a lot between the lines and figure out what their problem actually is and what will help them. Engage the client in a discussion. Ask a lot of questions. Learn what they have already and what they hope for and how it all fits into the big picture. Make suggestions and see how they react. Come back to them with a restatement of the assignment that makes sense before before you scare them off with a price for the wrong thing. And get all parties to agree on the brief.

Selling them something that's the wrong thing will hurt you in the end - even if it's what they asked for. If you can frame the client's brief the way you want it, you can set yourself up for doing some truly excellent creative work as well as for solving their problem.

Clients are nervous

Lots of clients are nervous by nature. If you give them exciting, original creative work then you probably make them more nervous. Many of them also have layers of management above them who make them even more nervous. It is so often down to you to keep them calm and help them get comfortable with the work you've done.

Then eventually they get you into their top management meeting in the big boardroom. The tension rises. The Big Cheese comes in through the "You're Fired" door. The mid-level clients are hyperventilating. They forget that their boss puts on his pants one leg at a time, just like them. All seems to be lost.

An ad agency head I know was making a presentation last month, at just such a meeting, to a big beauty-business client. The - gasp - chairman was there - you could smell the fear!

"This is no good" my friend thought as she got up to present to the assembled, tense and silent women. She paused, and dramatically adjusted her bra strap. "I got this new bra", she said "and I'm still figuring it out". The ice was broken. She knew her audience: everyone there had a bra story and wanted to tell it. Friends were made and work was sold. She knew they were just folks.

Do clients hate all sales people?

Q. Do clients hate all sales people? Graphic Designer, New York.

A.Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But that doesn't matter because they still value those that help them out.

As a buyer, I have made many calls to sales people that I trust to find out who's doing what and how to get a particular thing done. If their own wares are not appropriate they can usually tell you where to look for what you need. But that is business. It wasn't about whether I liked them. It's more important that they helped me do a good job than that they were nice.

Most importantly your aid and input is crucial to developing and maintaining a strong sales team. You need to give them the ammunition and help them achieve a clear understanding of your brand, in addition to up-to-date information on the clients and projects you are working on.

You will find that all the pieces will work beautifully together once the sales pitches are consistent with the marketing of the rest of the company, and in turn the sales people monitor what the clients are thinking, saying and asking for. They are your strongest link to monitoring your competition and market. Constant briefing and debriefing will significantly strengthen the sales effort.

Getting results from creative staff

confessed he was always wondering if she thinks he is doing a good job.Your creative staff is probably not that good at guessing what you want from them either.

It is important to put a stop to this second-guessing. It is amazingly destructive. It cripples initiative, it prevents them from doing their best work, it affects their mood and it rubs off on their colleagues. It maybe hard for you to understand how they're feeling, especially if you've always been your own boss.

The solution is simple. Let everyone know what you expect and, as time passes, let them know how they're doing. Schedule regular meetings and set goals.

Couch any criticism in constructive and positive terms rather than focusing on the negative. This will be a valuable part of making everyone happy, especially you, and will pay huge dividends in the end.

Most importantly, it will force you to define for yourself what you expect of them. After all, if you don't know what you want from them, how can you know whether you're getting it or not?

What to expect from press releases

As with so many things, you get from them what you put into them. Just don't expect to be on Page Six because you sent out one press release! But don't let that put you off. Getting your name out there can lead to real business. Even small press mentions can work wonders.

A client told me about a remarkable surge in calls from people who said they'd seen her company in the trades. Her releases hadn't gotten her a big feature story, just a series of small items. But these mentions, in several publications, added up to good news for her.

To get these mentions you have to give editors something that their readers will want to read. Here's a test for your release: would you want to read it if it wasn't about you? A talented PR person always searches for an angle that'll get an editor's attention.

Editors spend huge chunks of their day reading press releases. So make it easy for them. Encapsulate your whole story in the first paragraph. It may not always be great literature, but it needs to communicate quickly and effectively.

And keep the stories coming. Make sure that you're sending the right stories to the right publication. And don't forget to make sure that the stories you put out consistently support your brand and positioning!

Do your creatives talk to each other?

Q. My creatives don't talk to me about their work - they don't talk to each other. They just keep to themselves. What to do?

A.Well here's the first thing: you are not alone. This goes with the turf in creative organizations. Your creative person's whole reason for being is her/his ideas and creations. And let's face it, the judgment they face on those creations is emotional and often whimsical. It's really hard for them to open themselves to that judgment, especially from colleagues they respect. It's up to you as a leader to protect and nurture them so they feel safe and their ideas are protected. But if you're also working in the same creative sandbox, they won't always feel comfortable opening up to you.

Here's a tip: pick someone in your organization to act as a liaison and a cheerleader for your creative people. Pick someone who is not competing with them creatively and is ready to applaud failure as much as success. One thing is for sure: you can't just mandate them into playing nicely together. It will work against you.

Testimonials for pollock spark

Our clients have told us:

"pollock|spark has helped us enormously in moving our business forward, both inside the organization and outside."

"Marketing was key to continued growth, but we didn't have the time or resources to apply to it. We needed pollock|spark to be the catalyst for our thinking as well as to drive the train forward".

The creative part of your client's job is the most fun they have

A lot of clients have dreary corporate jobs. Many work for dry number-crunching organizations, or high- pressure ad agencies. And then once in a while they get to be involved in something creative: designing a space, making a TV spot or a logo and so on. This is the most fun part of their job. They get to tell their husband/wife in the morning "I am not going to the office today, I am going to the studio".

Make it fun for your clients. Don't bring them down with the stress and pressure you might be feeling. Keep them happy and enthusiastic: it will work wonders for the project and for your business.

Do potential clients really know what you do?

A filmmaker recently complained to me: "When they want comedy they go to Jim. When they want beauty they go to Jane." "So what would they come to you for?" I asked. He hadn't a clue. And he's not the only one.

Clients have a specific thing they want to achieve when they are looking for a supplier, and they are looking for specific solutions.

You need to decide what you are really good at, and simply and clearly let the world know what that is.

I just worked with a company to help them focus what they say they do. We carefully developed an idea and a set of words. The CEO told me a week later that he had just come from a pitch meeting that not been going well. Before all was lost he drew a deep breath and used the words we had arrived at: the ones that said clearly what his company can do for a client and why it's different. Suddenly, the stone-faced client beamed. "That's exactly what I need," he said. "Now I understand how you can help me." They landed a huge job just by knowing who they are and what they do and knowing how to say so clearly.

Check Focus - boards magazine

This could never happen to you..Right?

Take advantage of our experience

pollock|spark President, Michael Pollock, is a uniquely talented and experienced consultant for today’s creative businesses. He has started and built creative teams and organizations in London and New York, honing his skills as a leader, pioneer, marketer, team builder, manager and mentor. Before founding pollock|spark, he built and led award-winning departments in global ad agencies JWT and TBWA, pioneered a broadband internet marketing capability for integrated marketing agency Digitas, consulted for TV network TNT and built successful design and film postproduction companies.

pollock|spark provides expert services including strategic planning, marketing strategy and execution (advertising, PR, web, guerilla etc.), market research, workflow management, recruitment and team morale support.

Some successes

- We’ve helped a film company transform itself into an advertising agency. We helped them find a new positioning and organize for growth, figuring out who should do what, and easing the staff into a new structure.

- We’ve led the re-launch of a design and production firm. We helped them reposition, re-brand, re-launch and re-energize. We designed and implemented an integrated marketing plan, designing a new corporate identity, an ongoing PR campaign, a completely new website, online ads, internal communications and sales demos, all working together to communicate the new positioning to the right target audience.

- We’ve helped a global Fortune 500 company to create better internal corporate communications. Working with their advertising agency we carried out a program of in-depth personal interviews, online research, analysis, and actionable recommendations.

- We’ve helped an intellectual property brokerage discover its unique competitive strengths and define its promise. We designed a targeted marketing plan to communicate this, using Internet ads, e-news letters, personal meetings and direct mail.

Achieving your vision

You have a vision for your business, but getting there is not so easy.

If only there were two of you. One could keep doing the great work, and the other could focus on building the future.

Don’t you wish you could get experienced, smart, independent and objective help without taking on a partner – or cloning yourself?

pollock|spark works with leaders of creative businesses to help them plan and create their future. We bring an experienced and objective point of view to see what’s working – and what’s holding you back, whether it’s resources, ideas, or people. We can focus on the things you never get to, to make your business dreams come true.

And help make running a business fun again.

Clients served

Select List of Clients served by Pollock Spark

Creative License
Curious Pictures
Cutting Vision
Final Cut
Hospital for Special Surgery (strategy and research)
Langton Cherubino
Norhtern Lights Post
Pool/Avon (copywriting)
Shiseido (copywriting)
Sinek Partners (strategy and research)

Select List of Advertising Clients served by Michael Pollock

American Express
Anheuser Busch
British Airways
Burger King
J Walter Thompson
McCann Erickson
Procter & Gamble
Ralston Purina
Saatchi & Saatchi

How we work

We look at the big picture

What do you do now? What would you like to do? What do you hope for? What choices have occurred to you? What are your unspoken hopes and fears? What’s going on in the outside world?

We analyze your current situation
We look at people, systems and ideas. How does it all work? How might it all work? What are people thinking? We ask lots of questions, from bottom to top of your organization and discreetly in the marketplace. With your permission we’ll even talk to your clients. This could be one person or a hundred - whatever makes sense.

We tell you what we discovered and what it means
We’ll tell you what are your strengths and what is holding you back, what are the opportunities and what are the threats that need to be considered. We will address existing and future capabilities, people and systems as well as new opportunities.

Together we will decide which way is forward

We’ll discuss the results and analysis with you and your key players and explore any further questions that may arise. Opportunities are reviewed and discussed for further exploration. Together we’ll decide how to proceed.

We’ll help to enlist and empower your team

The whole team must be energized about the new direction and feel empowered to join in and support it. We can help you do this one-on-one or we can facilitate group meetings. We’ll lay out specific action plans for everyone concerned and help them to understand how they will benefit from working to achieve the vision.

We’ll establish measures of success
Milestones will be agreed on. Unless we have milestones and goals we can’t measure our success. If we can’t measure our success, we have no way of knowing if the plan needs fine-tuning. We will help to set up objective ways to know how your creative business is doing