Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finding a new job - be specific

A friend with a long resume, depth in a couple of disparate fields - asked me yesterday how to go about finding a new job. She wants to take advantage of her unique, and potentially quite valuable, combination of skills – but there is no obvious job description to fit.

We talked about how employers aren’t going to make any effort to tailor something for you – unless perhaps you are interviewing with your father-in-law! But they will surely be interested in you if hiring you will solve the problem they have. And to them it will be quite a specific problem. They are not looking for just “a marketing director” or “a web designer”. They have a specific challenge to overcome – whether it be to reach sports nuts who play video games, or they need someone who understands the ins and outs of the gravestone business, or who can make a complex data driven website with deep functionality and an offbeat sense of humor.

This thinking applies equally to independents and freelancers as well as to staffers.

So when you eventually get their ear or your resume or portfolio comes into their view – you will need to be specific too, about what problem you are especially suited to solve for them. When you are applying for a job, it’s not about you – it’s about solving the employer’s problem and that problem is quite clearly defined in her mind. In her mind is where you need to be.

So be specific when you market yourself. It works. More on this over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How I know this economic mess is all going to work out okay

So here is why I feel really good about the way things are going to turn out. It's because of what I hear every day from my amazing clients (you know who you are - I applaud you!).

If their commitment to a successful business future is any indication - and I am sure it is - then all across the US individuals and business owners in the creative industry are rethinking and retooling and repositioning and doing what it takes to get themselves launched on the path to future successes.

There is no sitting around and looking for bailouts and blaming the economy here. They are so positive and determined and working so hard. They look at what is going on and see opportunity - even create opportunity. This undaunted energy tells me that between us all we will indeed put our economy back together.

It's been pointed out that during the dotcom bust Apple launched the first ipod and in the US alone more than ten other disruptive innovations started during the same period. Sam Palmisano, the head of IBM, said he was sure that new leaders would emerge from the current calamity who will "win not by surviving the storm by by changing the game".

As a new client just wrote me excitedly, "I guess I am already opening myself to more possibilities". This is the stuff that is going to make it all turn out okay.

New Workshops Designed To Help Creative Companies Effectively Sell their Work

I am excited to announce our new TransformationSpark Workshops to help creative people to be more effective at communicating their ideas and to build stronger, more productive teams.

These unique Workshops are perfect for Ad people, Producers, Directors, Designers, Editors, Composers, Audio Engineers and Sales Reps: anyone who presents creative work or has to interact effectively with clients and team members.

Creative projects live or die based on how effectively you present yourself in meetings, conference calls and work sessions. Listening closely and communicating your ideas clearly and persuasively is critical to your success.

TransformationSpark Workshops are inspired by the techniques of improv. They are a carefully designed mix of games, exercises and guided discussions. Motivating, informative and entertaining: you'll see real and immediate results. You'll get new confidence, you'll learn to listen without interrupting and you'll communicate your ideas so much more effectively.

TransformationSpark is a joint venture with April Jaffe, CEO of Transformation and Executive Producer at music company Expansion Team. April is a smart and successful EP and consultant on new business development and marketing; she brings a deep understanding of the value of the improv techniques that are the basis of this program.

We have just given a Workshop for about a dozen staff and managers at a leading New York design firm, and they were most enthusiastic about it. Here is what they said:

We just put some of last night's techniques to use on a (client) call a little while ago, thanks for the workshop!
Fun, useful and helpful. I will totally recommend it.
Everything I learned is useful for me at work and outside work, I'll try to apply everything.
The discussion at the end about how to solve problems with conference calls was really helpful.
I'd recommend it. I think it was as much about team building and working better with your coworkers as it was about effective communication - and both are very important.
Let us hold a TransformationSpark Workshop for your team. Learn more about the Workshops at TransformationSpark.com

Mark Twain - business wisdom

Here's some business wisdom for you from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:

"A man can keep his trademark current in such a country, but he can't sit around and do it; he has to be on deck and attending to business, right along."

So what are you waiting for? Get on deck and attend to business!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ever feel like you're doing it on your own?

I speak to a lot of creative people. I hear from people who own businesses and from people who work independently. They all want to talk - they all have something to say and have lots of good ideas. And many of them really want someone objective to help them decide which ideas are worth pursuing, and to help them to figure out the right steps to take.

But so many of them have no-one they trust that they can talk to about it. They don't want to talk to their employees or their competitors. They trust their lawyers and their accountants but how much do they really understand the subtle dynamics of a creative business?

I suppose this has come to sound like a pitch for my services. Well so be it. I do believe that the service I provide is a needed one - I hear it every day.

But if you don't choose to get in touch with me - at least look around and find someone objective whose opinion you can trust and bounce your ideas off them. This could be another change that will really help you.

Where do sales come from?

Several clients have told me that they have lost faith in their sales people: that they haven't produced anything for them recently and they are wondering whether to keep them.
Sales people are not just magic wands that you wave and suddenly wonderful things happen. They have to be employed as just one tool that works with all the other smart pieces of your marketing. They cannot be effective in isolation. Could this be an area where you can implement some more change?
I thought it might be helpful to look at a few new clients who have placed their trust in me in the last couple of weeks and see where they came from. One thing is for sure - they didn't all come from one direction.

One came directly from a referral from a former happy client. A few came from a carefully targeted direct email. One came after literally years of personal cultivation. One came from LinkedIn and contacted me through that site. One contacted me from the pollock|spark website but can't remember how he found himself there. And one is a repeat client - don't we just love repeat business.

So they come from all over. You have to pay attention to all angles and contact points and approaches. And you should weave your sales people into this mesh so that they can be maximally effective.

So where are your clients coming from? Where could they come from? Think about whether some change in the way you use sales could get you stronger results.

Change we can make

So finally we voted - and we voted for change.

But the heavy lifting should not all be left to our President-elect. We should seize this moment ourselves to make some changes too and work harder to generate jobs and opportunities and all the things that we have said we want. As President-elect Obama said on Tuesday night, "this victory alone is not the change we seek, it is only the chance for us to make that change."

Well here is a change that I can implement myself right away. I will take all the time I have been spending on Politico and Fivethirtyeight and MSNBC and Realclearpolitics and watching Keith and Rachel and Chris and Wolf - and spend it on focusing and growing my career and my business and on helping others to build or rebuild theirs. This is a whole bunch of time (more than I care to admit) that is suddenly newly available to me. I must use it well.

This is my first change. I'll recapture that time and not let it fritter itself away. I encourage you to do the same.

Okay I know Barack Obama wasn't just talking about your business and my business - but he did stress the importance of self-reliance. We all need to find fresh smart ways to re-energize our own businesses, pulling together to re-energize the economy, so that he can make the macro changes that so urgently need to happen. So let's get to it and start rebuilding wherever we can.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reap Rewards from Strategic Partnerships

Creative people are especially protective of their ideas and they're famously reluctant to share. I understand that, I am such a person myself. But I see so much duplication of effort and overhead that surely in these days of tighter margins there could be riches waiting for those who make smart alliances.

I have seen some very productive work and significant revenue resulting from strategic partnerships. Lots of times you are slaving away on your own to climb the same hill others are also tackling. What if you pooled some resources and supported each other's efforts?

I challenge you to look at your business and think very hard about who is doing work that complements or supplements yours and which companies share interests with yours. Then project what the benefits of partnering with them could be. Besides, two heads can be smarter than one.

Might you possibly have to give a little but gain a lot? Think about it. This can be another kind of opportunity worth opening your mind to as you seize this troubled day.

Seismic or organic? How to implement change.

A CEO asked me what is the best way to change an organization - is it necessary to have a seismic change or is organic change the better solution?

The organization is not a monolithic entity, it is a bunch of disparate people - each of whose behavior needs to be changed and who need to collaborate with the rest of the team who are also being asked to change. Some people thrive on big gestures - they love the grand play and could respond well to a seismic change - it will get their adrenalin going and things can happen. Others may be intimidated and not willing to go so far in one go.

This is something that a smart consultant or manager will have to assess for each group of people. Someone with experience can find the right way to do this and can do it in an
objective way so that egos are not hurt and relationships can stay strong.

Once again the old saw applies - if you can't get started, perhaps the first step is too big.

What keeps you going?

What keeps you going - even in these challenging times?

Is it simply making money? Is it that you get pleasure from solving problems: design problems or story problems or marketing problems or the problems of your clients that you care so much about? Or do you love the creative work that you do and can't wait to get started every day? Or is it the love you have for your team, the people who enable your success and who are important to you in so many ways, that you want to see them succeed and flourish with you?

It is helpful to ask yourself this question and see what you say. You might be surprised. An honest answer can clarify a lot and be a valuable beacon to guide your planning and help you move forward.

Bailout Schmailout. Opportunity knocks.

While the fetal position does have its appeal right now, I am suggesting that you set aside just an hour a day for that simple comfort and use the rest of the day more productively.

This is an unprecedented season of opportunities. Look at how Warren Buffett plays it. He seizes the moment and makes inexpensive investments in Goldman Sachs and GE. Barclays leaps on bits of Lehman and so on.

Things are going to be up for grabs. Weaker companies will close - yes even creative businesses I am sorry to say. Talented people will become available. If you are a business owner now is very much the time to be aware of what is going on around you. If you are paying attention you could snap up some strong people who find themselves to be suddenly available. If you are a talented artist or craftsman you can offer your services to the companies who are still playing and looking to the future. These are the ones you want to be doing business with or working for anyway.

So seize the day to scout for these opportunities and move swiftly when you find them. You read that MBA applications are way up - that's because these guys are not hiding their head in the sand - they are retooling and rethinking.

You should be too.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Coaching: the ROI

Studies show that business coaching and executive coaching to be the most effective means for achieving sustainable growth change and development in the individual, group and organization."
HR Monthly

"Companies who invest in developing their staff consistently do 35% better than companies that do not"
The American Society of Training and Development.

"The average training program improves productivity by 22% over the short term, but one-on-one coaching increases it by more than 88% and the improvement is maintained over time."
Independent Research

"More than 60% of Fortune 500 executives work with a professional coach: an objective partner who provides perspective, clarity and motivation."
Wall Street Journal

"The return on investment for coaching services over a 6-12 month period:
• Monetary return was 6 times the coaching investment
• 71% improved relationships with their bosses
• 77% reported improved relationships with their direct reports"
Survey of Fortune 1000 clients

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Your own ideas are always better

Creative people don't respond well to enterprise level systems and color-coded filing. We don't do too well with org charts and direct reporting grids. And we surely are awful at doing time sheets! Hopeless. And the real creative doesn't really care what her title is - does she? The person in the room with the best idea has the most status at that moment - whatever their title, whatever their age.

To learn what choices exist for my creative-business clients, I have been looking at coaching and self-help sites. I reacted really badly to a lot of the false enthusiasm I saw - and to acronyms - especially acronyms. What is it with acronyms?

Here's one of mine:
SWOTWA Stop Wasting Our Time With Acronyms.

And another.
FAME: Fatuous Acronyms Make Enemies

Got any others?

The one proven way to help a creative person is to help them figure out their own answers for themselves. We all know that someone else's idea is never a hit - until it becomes your own idea - then it is the smartest thing since whatever. I know that's how it works for me and that's how it works for pretty much every creative person I have worked with.

It's not manipulation - you help them to find a better answer - or a better way of doing things. (and I am sorry to say if they find an acronym helpful - well it will have to come from them - and they are welcome to it. Though LSMFT worked pretty well on the poor misguided smokers of the world. Look it up!)

So give creative people respect and help them to solve it themselves. Create a good environment, excite them, nurture and guide them and together we'll conquer the world.

Anyone for Hubris?

I have been reading David Owen's fascinating and terrifying book about hubris. It hits pretty close to home to many of us who have worked in creative businesses.

Dr Owen, a British politician and medical doctor, tells that the Greeks developed the notion of a hubristic act: one in which a powerful figure, puffed up with overweening pride and self-confidence, treated others with insolence and contempt. They seem to get kicks from using their power to treat others in this way. Plato told us that the young and the wealthy are given to insulting people because it make them feel superior. Philosopher David Cooper describes it as "an "up yours!" attitude."

Owen says hubris is an occupational hazard for leading politicians and businessmen. It feeds on the isolation that often builds up around them. The point is often reached when they are no longer living in the same world as the organization they lead. (Anyone you work with come to mind?)

Leaders do need to show decisiveness rather than hesitation, doubt and vacillation; but that leadership needs to carry trust, and this is usually lost when the leader crosses that borderline between decisive and hubristic leadership.
And without trust the ship will sink.

Ever come across anything like this in your work? How did you deal with it? By the way according to Owen, it turns out that hubris is very often exacerbated by some other disease or by medications taken for other reasons.

He tells us "it may be that hubristic syndrome never has a medical cure, but it is becoming even clearer that as much or even more than conventional illness, it is a great menace to the quality of leadership."

Crisis - or opportunity

I went to Indonesia for three weeks - and look what happened. Fannie and Freddie and Sarah and Lehman and Merrill and AIG - whatever next?

I just got a note from a friend I stayed with on Bali - she's an economist and a very smart woman: "Just in time for a Wall St crisis, lucky you! You can have the adrenalin, I'll take the mangoes. cheers!"

But we can't just sit by and fret. Careers don't stop. Cash still needs to flow in our businesses. The spoils will go to the people who take this opportunity to get their acts together and polish them, the people who review what they are good at and what their clients need and find just the right way to build their creative businesses. They'll find ways to streamline operations and focus marketing, and they'll reevaluate what is working and what is not and act accordingly.

But don't panic - you don't have to do this all alone. If you'd like someone experienced and objective to help you through this process and give you the impetus to build your creative business or career - that's exactly what we do. Drop us a line and schedule a free consultation to see how we can help you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Things I heard at Web 2.0 Expo

Some things wise, some provocative, some opaque.

"When designing software, think of it as an object. Does it have sharp edges? Is it soft or hard? Can you see through it?"

"Design your program as if you were curating it. Don't put in features unless they really belong and make it better. A room containing all the art in the world is not a museum, it's a warehouse."

"Please don't keep doing your job if it doesn't make you happy. You can lose just as much money being happy as being unhappy."

The brand experience is the aftertaste you have from an encounter with the brand."

"TV syndication rates for shows have fallen to 25% of what they were due to Internet/Bittorrent viewing."

"When you talk to clients about metrics for "new media", you have to start by talking to them about their old ways of measuring, and then explain how the new way is better."

"The Grand Gesture is dead." I heard this whole presentation and cannot explain it to you. But I did get introduced to this wonderful clip of Sid Caesar arguing to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Coaching: like having a business partner - but with no stake

I got the following from a coaching client today:

"Michael is a great listener, witty and very supportive. He makes you feel like you are talking to a business partner with the company's best interest in mind but nothing at stake. I feel lots of changes in the way I do business and we are busier than before."

Dear Sparkings: my staff is cranky, what to do?

Respect them. That is thing one. Tell them what is going on. Ask them to tell you what they think and what they want to do. Listen to them. Tell them your plans. You don't have to tell them everything - nor do you have to do what they ask, But you do have to respect them as people and to give them attention and not leave them in the dark. After that, money and time off and benefits and all those things - but first of all: respect.

Dear Sparkings: Should I use Facebook for my business?

What do you think? Write down all the gigs you got from it. Write down all the gigs you are going to get from it. Okay that's a start.

If you are looking at little photos of your potential partners and customers - and you know when their birthday is and when they last got drunk and when they are going to the gym...that has to have real value....doesn't it? It's certainly cheaper than buying them lunch.

But mainly of course it keeps you away from Solitaire. See you online.

(What's eating you today? Editor)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goals - and sticking with the plan

Here is a nice note I got from a client after we had worked together. It underscores the value of setting goals and then "staying the course." (Shame that expression has become so tarnished of late)

In answer to my question:

Q. How well did we accomplish the goals you set for our work together?

A. "Extremely well. Although you laid out the structure and the “mini-goals”, it gelled in our final meeting beyond what I expected. As if it were a well told story and we came to the third act."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Improv techniques help creative people communicate their ideas better

Creative people are notoriously not-so-good at presenting their ideas. Pitches, conference calls, presentations, talking to clients – these are not their favorite things to do. But without successful communication their ideas have a hard time getting off the drawing board.

April Jaffe and Michael Pollock have discovered that the techniques and exercises used by improv actors can be enormously helpful to our creative clients. We are specially selecting and adapting exercises to incorporate into our own brand of workshops that we will be giving to teams at film companies, design firms and other creative businesses.

Last night we held a trial run with the help of improv star Rebekka Johnson. The session was attended by film editors, a videoblogger, a photographer, a documentary producer, an executive producer and ad agency creatives. It was a huge success, converting even those who were not sure that this was their thing. The group was particularly impressed by the value of techniques relating to listening, working towards goals, and managing difficult clients. Here is what one participant wrote to us this morning:

"I wanted to thank you for inviting us to what proved to be both a terrifying and incredibly enjoyable evening. Standing in front of a group of people or privately attempting to be creative is always a daunting task and the night's exercises provided a number of helpful tools and exercises from an unlikely source, improv."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Clients and the Creative Process

Thanks to Paul Cappelli for bringing this must-see video to our attention.

What if there were no STOP signs and a major corporation was charged with creating one...

Click here to see: The Creative Process

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marketing/Brand Therapy

A Pollock Spark client - the artist/owner of a creative business - wrote, in answer to my question "Would you recommend (Pollock Spark) to others?"

"Absolutely and already have! I have said the experience was marketing/brand therapy. I hope we do another round 12 months from now. It's really as important to me as seeing your doctor regularly to check your blood pressure etc."

Carissa - onward to the Oscars?

"Carissa" was one of four short films selected out of 116 for the International Documentary Association's DOCUWEEK .

Carissa is a moving and informative film by David Sauvage about child prostitution and homelessness that we were able to help get made. It will have theatrical distribution at the Arclight Cinema during the last week of August and will therefore qualify for Academy Award consideration. Historically, a very real percentage of DOCUWEEK films get nominated.

Here are its recognitions to date:

Carissa officially premiered at the beautiful and aptly named Premiere Theater on the Lucas Arts Campus in San Francisco on March 18.

Here is a list of its awards / film festival selections since then. This list does not include the festivals named above.

Winner, Jury Prize, Best Documentary Short, Newport Beach Film Festival
Winner, Jury Prize, Best Short Film, New York City PictureStart Festival
Winner, Jury Prize, Best Documentary Short, Connecticut Film Festival
Winner, Audience Award, Documentary, Fresno Film Festival
Official Selection, Bermuda International Film Festival
Official Selection, Trenton Film Festival
Official Selection, San Francisco Frozen Film Festival
Official Selection, Landlocked Film Festival
Official Selection, Iowa Documentary Film Festival

Its two most impressive appearances in the press have been:

Good Morning America

USA Today
Carissa also appeared on CNN Newsroom a few weeks ago, discussing the nationwide crackdown on child sexual exploitation by the FBI.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What your network says about you

What does your social network look like?

This remarkably beautiful image represents my own network of LinkedIn connections.

My genius friend Erich Morisse, who made this image, is developing products that quantify and value social networks. Here is what he told me:

"Social networks are as individual as we are, our own fingerprints of interaction with society. Turned into images, they remind us of everything from supernovas (see the concentrated brighter areas in this person's network) to beds of sea anemones (this one has many outliers, each with their own radiance).

Supernovas have the ability to get big and great things done with their close knit social group, but need to work hard at finding new ideas and opportunities.

Sea anemones are entrepreneurs, always finding new ideas and opportunities from their breadth of contacts; they have to rely on their contacts to find the right people to get big things done.

So which are you, are sea anemone or a supernova? And what do you need to change about your social network to meet your personal goals?"

Dear Sparkings: Why aren't my calls returned?

Q. "I keep calling and leaving messages for the ad agency producers I sell to - but no-one ever returns my calls. What am I doing wrong?"

A. Oh my dear unrequited - you must be losing your touch! What did your message say? Did you give them any good reason to pick up the phone and call you back? Would that message make you call you back? Could it be they don't have anything to say to you? Something to think about.

Though it does seem surprising, because I've heard that agency producers have been set a goal of returning 20 sales calls a day - perhaps you were their 21st call. (Are you sure about this? Editor)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ira Glass on creativity and persistence

Ira Glass tells us here just how hard it is for a creative person with taste to get their work to be as good as they want it to be. He says just do lots of work and keep on doing lots of work and eventually you will get there. He bravely plays his early work and tears it apart! (Many thanks to Erich Morisse for finding this gem)

Dead ends are illusory

"Dead ends are illusory. When did you ever let a 'Do not enter' sign keep you away from anything? Go around the brick walls. When you can't go around, climb over or dig under. Just don't give up."

This is a quote from Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez, physicist and inventor, in The Cuckoo's Egg, Cliff Stoll's wonderful account of chasing computer hackers and spies in the 80's when networking was young and network security had barely been thought of.

The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Whatever happened to client loyalty?

"Whatever happened to client loyalty?" is a cry I hear over and over again from clients in the advertising field: especially from the creative shops that sell to ad agencies: film, music, editing, design and so on.

Well, sorry guys, loyalty is not even a relevant concept here. If you give them better than they expected and they keep wanting the same thing – then they might just come back. But that is not about loyalty, it’s about their own self-interest. For these ad guys who are buying your services, novelty rules. Your typical creative client is always in search of new sensations and lives in hope that the next company will excite them in some new way. And there are no metrics to hold them back.

Of course since the marketing directors keep changing and the economy is tough - the ad agencies are constantly pressured to find a new magic bullet to move the needle - no client is satisfied with the status quo.

So none of this has anything to do with loyalty. Don't even think about it. Sorry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Treat me rough, coach!

Before I start work with a new business-coaching client I ask them how they want me to work with them. Here is a selection of recent responses:

"I don’t want any gloves on. If I decide to work with you is because I chose to, I know what I want out of it and I will get it."

"Please be very rigorous! I’m determined to make progress … I want to gain some insights, I want to evolve as a businessman and grow as an artist."

"More of a football coach vs. a yoga coach"

"Don't leave any marks"

And my personal favorite:

"If you were a dish in a Thai restaurant, you’d be the jungle curry – very rigorous."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Interesting staff are good for business

I was talking last night to Roger, a very talented man who designs those high-end terraces and roof gardens for those people in Manhattan who have very much more money than we can imagine.

He not only designs them, but his team installs and maintains them. So he is responsible for a team that has to carry sacks of dirt and trees past the Monets and Picassos and over the $500,000 rugs that fill his clients' apartments - without leaving a trace.

Roger himself is a fascinating and charming person, a former actor and theater designer. And his team is made up of kindred spirits: actors and designers and writers and photographers - all exquisitely good at what they are doing, and all interesting people in their own right.

And that is what makes a huge difference, Roger told me. When the competition comes to do the terrace the clients feel they have to get out of the way - their guys are strong competent workers - and that is all. But when Roger's people are there, the clients love to talk to them. They can talk about art and theater, politics and music. Clients love this and they look forward to their gardeners' visits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ask yourself 12 important questions

1. What is the single thing that I do that solves my clients problems?

2. What is the business goal I have set for this coming year?

3. What are the obstacles preventing me from achieving this goal?

4. How do my clients see us relative to our competition?

5. Do I have as much repeat business as I should have?

6. How many new clients do I plan to get in the coming year?

7. How much time each week do I spend reaching out to potential clients?

8. Are my team members working well together?

9. What are my competitors doing?

10.What is the next big opportunity for my business?

11.What changes are taking place in the way my clients work?

12.Are there any glitches in the way our operations are functioning?

13.Am I having fun yet?

Okay so that is thirteen questions - you get to pick which one not to answer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The kindness of strangers

I am increasingly being asked to introduce people on LinkedIn. And not just people I know, but people I know who know the people that my friends want to know. So I am just a link in the chain.

I am not sure how I feel about this chainlinking. I suppose that this is the point of these networks. What do you think? If you got this third or fourth hand introduction would it make you take notice? Does it mean anything?

I must say that I have asked some questions on LinkedIn and got some quite useful answers from complete strangers. It feels as if they must be connected to me in some way - but they aren't, are they? I am grateful for their responses and they have helped me out.

I guess that we are moving into a phase where we will all be able to say "whoever you are, I've always depended on the kindness of strangers"

So why don't you join me on LinkedIn and see if we can meet some of these kind strangers?

You're still selling - even when you're working

I have had conversations with two different clients in the last week who were bemoaning the fact that when they get a big job they focus completely on it and are not out selling.

But they are missing the beauty of the opportunity. The client that already gives you work is very very likely to give you another job. She is the lowest hanging fruit. So everything you do when you are working on her job should be working towards securing her future business.

Yes of course your immediate task is to do an awesome piece of work for her. But your larger task can be considered as "turning this job into the next one and the next one". You don't have to hard sell. Just show her you are excited about her job, ask her about her hopes and dreams for her career, tell her about other interesting stuff you are excited about - all this is selling and you have a captive receptive audience

And there can often be an even bigger opportunity than that. In the case of one client - a film director who was shooting a commercial - he told me that everyone who worked at the ad agency had showed up on the shoot. All 15 of them. Better and better I said. Every one of them can become a client in the future. They will all probably move on to new agencies. What a magnificent sales opportunity - don't miss it.

First Drafts - getting started

Do you find it hard to get started when you have to write a proposal or a presentation - or a newsletter like this one. I know I do. I put it off and let it fester in my mind - and actually starting to put down words becomes the hardest part.

The best tip I have - the one that got me started this morning, is one that I took from Anne Lamotts wonderful book Bird by Bird: "All good writers write shitty first drafts. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts." The shitty first draft, she says, is "the child's draft where you let it pour out and let it romp all over the place knowing that no-one is going to see it and you can shape it later."

I commend the SFD to you as a brilliant way to get started when you have to write.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

When clients are unhappy

This is a customer relationship story that should prompt some thoughts about your own
clients and those odd times when they think you might have done them wrong.

I had a rather nasty experience this month with a high-pressure car dealership. The manufacturer had done a superb branding job on a greatlittle car that would make us feel young and carefree and last a long long time.

But by the time I left the dealership I felt battered and abused and convinced that the car I had bought would fall to pieces and sure that I had somehow been duped.

This was all thanks to a salesperson who reminded me a lot of Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo - and not in a good way - and a finance manager who made my wife think of Gitmo. There is more - but I will spare you.

I have since been contacted by three different survey takers from the dealer and from the manufacturer, asking me to rate my experience. Believe me I told them. But nothing has been done - no attempt to calm me or to make amends. Though I did get an automated phone call wishing me a happy birthday. A recorded greeting - please!

So they have the part right about finding out what their customers think - though three separate surveys seems like overkill. But what are they doing with the information?

They were smart enough to ask me how many people I had told of my bad experience. The response box was not big enough to say that I had already Twittered about it to goodness only knows how many people.

We've all had a client or two who got the wrong end of the stick. More and more their rants are being passed on - and at the speed and breadth of social networks.

So what should we do when a client is unhappy? I suggest tackling it head on with that client - and quickly. You should have a point of view ready so you don't get caught flat-footed. You don't have much time to fool around any more and the damage a disgruntled client can do can spread far wide and fast.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Client testimonials and fan mail!

I was asked this month by the owners of a creative firm to suggest some techniques that would work for them. We talked about business coaching, consulting and intensive workshops. They asked to talk to some of my clients to learn about their experiences.

Nice thing happened: when I asked some clients if they would mind talking to this prospect, one said:
"Think nothing of it. I'd be doing him a favor!"
and another said
"But we want you all to ourselves : )"

This firm is now a client and we are working well together using a mix of techniques that suits them.

Fan Mail

Don't you love getting fan mail? Here are some from last months mailbag. (Surely you mean Inbox? Editor)

"hi michael - you're a great marketing man. you email is fun, easy to read & inviting."

"Hi Michael, Great news letter. I would hire you."

What's not to like - except for the "would hire you" part. What's that about? What are you waiting for - the opportunity cost of waiting for things to magically happen on their own can be pretty high.

One new client who just came on board, a film prodco owner, said "I also want your marketing guy."

"You just got him"
I replied.

How to implement change

I am often asked, by company leaders and individual artists alike, what is the best way to implement change. They know that things can't just keep going on as they are - but they are totally engulfed in the day-to-day stuff - and nothing happens.

So how do you implement change?

There is one fundamental thing to know: the way to do it is to change behavior first, not attitude: behavior change will lead to attitude change, ask any adult educator. The other way round doesn't work. And this applies to you and me too!

All companies, from huge to tiny, do best when they bring in some help to with implementing that change. But everyone has their own speed and need. What change techniques might work best for you and your business? Here are some effective alternatives.

A kickstart.

Some people do well with a short sharp stimulus that will work to get them pointed in the right direction with defined tasks, timelines, accountability and the impetus to move forward. One or two intense half-day workshops can often be all they need to get them off the dime: they get the guidance to develop their own strategies and put them into practice.

Regular steady input.

Others respond well to the regularity of guidance and to-dos and accountability that Business Coaching gives them. This is probably the strongest tool for getting behavior to change: do what needs to be done over time, and keep on doing it until it becomes second nature.

"Doing it" is always a more effective thing than being told to do it. This is a very different technique from the one-off workshop that for some people can come and go and leave no trace. A commitment to weekly sessions over 12 weeks is a great way to start. I've been through it myself and it was enormously effective.


When there is a specific task to be done, and you don't have the resources or expertise in-house, you can bring in an experienced professional to take care of it. Just as you do with accounting, or lawyering. This works brilliantly in many cases. But in the case where the outcome is a report that says that the staff have to do certain things differently, or carry out some additional tasks - then all too often that report sits ignored on the shelf and everyone carries on as if it never happened. Unless...

There are important ways to prevent this. One is to follow the report with a period of coaching (see above) that provides the guidance, stimulus and accountability over time to effect the behavior change. This stuff works really well.

Another technique for changing behavior that can be enormously effective with a group is the workshop. It is a way to get team members to engage themselves in an intense experience of give and take. They are guided to devise their own tactics for implementing the changes. They are no longer passive participants in the consulting process but they become a part of it and become committed to its success - and to each other. They can own the results.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Wow - those marketers really understand me!"

Our Research Director, Laurie Pollock, brings us this insight into how we really see ourselves. It sure works for astrologers - marketers please note.

In 1948, psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave a personality test to his students, and then gave them an analysis supposedly based on the test's results. He invited each of them to rate the accuracy of the analysis on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) as it applied to themselves: the average was 4.26.

He then revealed that each student had been given the same analysis:

"You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.”

Forer had assembled this text from horoscopes.

Later studies have found that subjects give higher accuracy ratings if the following are true:

* the subject believes that the analysis applies only to them
* the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator
* the analysis lists mainly positive traits

Source: Wikipedia

Friday, March 28, 2008

Result: Booked Solid!

Remember the film director from our post in December? He had let his TV commercials business lapse for some years while he wrote and directed a feature (lots of star power, theatrical release, DVDs etc).

Now he wanted to get back to doing some advertising work while he was getting more films off the ground. I helped him do just this. Here is what he wrote me:

"I want to give you an update. Since we [worked together] in the late fall I have not stopped working. I have been booked solid. I shot nine new spots in the last eight weeks.

Being able to shoot with the confidence of knowing my strengths has been a great pleasure. I have never had a run this strong.

I would like to do more work together, both commercially, but for my film career as well. Your insights have been a great focusing tool."

Congratulations to him - we love to hear these success stories of people getting to where they want to be.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pop Quiz

1. What is your company’s most successful piece of communication?

2. Who was it aimed at?

3. What did you want them to do when they received - saw/heard/read/smelled/felt it?

4. Did they?

5. What makes it successful?

Now here is the question that really counts:
What can be learned from the answers to questions 1-5?

Pricing tip (thanks to Calvin Klein)

A wonderful and insightful story from Ingrid Sischy’s portrait of Calvin Klein in the latest Vanity Fair.

Apparently as a child, Klein used to visit his dad’s grocery store. He noticed that there were grapefruits in two different bins – one lot priced at 29c a pound and one lot priced at 49c a pound.

He asked his father what was the difference between them. His father apparently just shrugged and said, “Some people like to pay 29 cents and some people like to pay 49 cents.”

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is your "News" up to date?

When I look at the website of a company, I almost always look at the "News" section. Don't you? If there is recently posted news, then we know the company is active and alive.

I looked at a site earlier today - in the news section was an announcement that their next newsletter would be posted in June 2007. They are already 9 months late! Is there anyone at home?

Last week I noticed that the site of Desedo, an innovative NY production company, was way overdue for a news posting. I mentioned this to the multi-talented Michael Hastings-Black who runs the firm. Within hours they had put up an excellent news post that showed lots of activity in the intervening months - completely explained the gap. Great energy and serious signs of life.

See their post here.

Is your news up-to-date?

How to price your services

There's a wonderful story in Ingrid Sischy’s Vanity Fair portrait of Calvin Klein. As a child, Klein used to visit his dad’s grocery store. He noticed that there were grapefruits in two different bins – one lot priced at 29c a pound and one lot priced at 49c a pound. He asked his father what was the difference between them. His father apparently just shrugged and said, “Some people like to pay 29 cents and some people like to pay 49 cents.”

Hard time getting things done?

When you have a hard time getting something done – getting started – getting things just right – take a step back. Instead of beating your head against it, try to identify the obstacles to your success. What is stopping you from getting what you want? It could be something someone else is doing to get in the way, or it could be some habit of yours, or it could be something small and concrete. Spend some time figuring out what the obstacle is and understanding it. Learn where it comes from and how it prevents you from success. Understanding the obstacle – as a separate entity from the thing you are attempting – is the surest way to finding a way around it or past it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Imagination - blessing and curse

Creative people have imagination. It’s what helps them see in fresh ways and come up with things the world hasn’t had before: solving a problem, or make something happen, or just because.

They are always wishing they were doing something else. Their imagination is working all the time whether they like it or not: conjuring something else - maybe better, maybe just different. So they either get unhappy because they are not doing it, or they off and do it and enter the next exciting cycle of discovery and imaging the next new thing.

So it goes.

That is the curse and the blessing of imagination.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Taking the first step

"If you are having a hard time getting started on something, maybe the first step is too big."

Think about it. Wish I'd said that.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Michael Pollock on TV!

CurrentTV asked me to do a promotion for current.com as part of their New Icons series. Here is what they showed - edited from my webcam account of what I saw on current.com.

Note that my affiliation is shown as The Cyrano Project - this is the nonprofit that I work with. Check it out.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Never Never Never Give Up

10 years ago I met a most talented and ambitious photographer: Steven Sebring. He had been filming the singer Patti Smith and had a huge pile of material in several different formats - and wanted to start putting it together.

I introduced him to Lin Polito, a wonderful and creative film editor, who over a period of months dug through tens of hours of footage and shaped the first 15-minute taste of the film.

Cut to 2008 and Sebring’s film, Patti Smith: Dream of Life, is a full length 1 hr 49 minutes, is in the Sundance Festival and Steven wins a Cinematography award. “Very well done” to all concerned.

I believe it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never, never, never give up”. Steven worked on this film for 12 years. It will be seen in 2009 on the PBS POV series.

Here is what Variety says about Dream of Life.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So who's in charge?

I don’t like indecision-by-consensus, and I've seen it too often. I am a huge believer in having someone in charge.

Much business success comes from the ability for leadership to make a decision and act on it. Yes of course you may need to socialize the decision in your organization and have a strategy for getting it implemented. But that is different from not being able to make the decision stick in the first place.

Having said that – if you have partners, by all means consult with them and show them due respect. One of the strategies I recommend is to have each partner responsible for making the decisions in their own specialty area. But there still needs to be someone who will have the final word, someone who is managing the budget or whatever is the constraint. One person: the GM, the President, whoever – but someONE.

And for that one person here is some valuable advice: make the decision and move on. If you are at all smart, most of your decisions will be right. Yes, some of them may be wrong, but most of them will be right. And if you put off your decision, the percentage of right to wrong will probably be no different. And you will have lost all that time when it hadn’t been made and all that time when you were sweating it.


Have someone in charge.
Make the decision and move on.

Try it – you might like it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Know what you do best

When you want a great pizza you go to the best pizza parlor. When you want a good steak you know where to go. That great steak and the great pizza are certainly not found in the same place.

Your clients view you the same way. They are looking for the best of something in particular. So you have to make choices and be clear when you express them. Emphasize your strengths and be clear about the value you offer. Decide how broad or specific your niche is. (are you Target or Waterfilters.com?) Some of this decision will depend on your what you like doing and what you're good at. But a big piece of it must depend on a good understanding of how your client thinks when he/she’s buying. If you don't know how or what your client is thinking, then finding that out is your Marketing Job One.

At Pollock Spark we say we serve "leaders of creative businesses, large and small". Is this too broad? Too narrow? We've helped partnerships made up of creatives and business guys. We've helped film directors and film editors where the company is just one person. What they all have in common is that they are creatively driven businesses. What do you think?

Your brand is ...

Your brand is the result of 1000 small gestures.

I met recently with the head of a company who told me how their brand had been blue and yellow, but last year they changed it to blue and brown.

“Blue and yellow” is probably not their brand. Their brand is the picture of them that their clients, investors and staff hold in their heads and their hearts.

Your company’s brand is the sum of the way your phone is answered, what is found on your website, how you react to a complaint, the quality of your ideas and work of course, your positioning and value proposition, your pricing, what your clients say about you, the cleanliness of your coffee room and on and on and on.

The ideal is for all those things add up to the picture that you want your clients, investors and staff to hold. If they don’t, then you have 1000 things you can tweak to get to where you want to be. One of them may be the color of your logo – but it is almost certainly the first one you should be thinking about.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Celebrate Everything

When I was purging my files for the New Year I found those two inspirational words on an otherwise blank sheet of paper: Celebrate Everything. I commend them to you - the positive feedback can have a truly excellent effect on you, your people and your business.

A talented artist/businessman I used to work with would smile wryly when anything went right – anything at all – and say quietly “it’s the small victories, the small victories.” In fact I am celebrating the finding of this note even now with a cup of tea and a blog entry.

Celebrate everything. Celebrate when your receptionist buys flowers, and your creative teams are excited. Celebrate the purging of your files and the call from a prospective client (one came in as I am writing this), celebrate the rewriting of your website and celebrate having a new idea.

You will feel good, your people will feel good - and all those small victories will start to add up to some really big ones.